CHINA - The central government is urging local authorities to resist any outbreak of H7N9 avian flu by taking more effective measures to prevent the virus from spreading.
The order emerged from an executive meeting of the State Council, China's Cabinet, presided over by Premier Li Keqiang recently.
Mr Li was briefed on prevention and control measures against the potentially lethal virus. He called for local governments to monitor the epidemic and promptly disclose information to the public.
Since the first case of a human infected in China in 2013, the virus has killed thousands of people around the globe.
The number of patients infected with the H7N9 strain in China has increased rapidly since December, with more than 16 provinces reporting an outbreak since the beginning of the year.
The virus claimed 79 lives in January, more than triple the death toll for December and far surpassing the number of deaths in the same month in recent years, the National Heath and Family Planning Commission reported on 15 February.
After the meeting, areas such as Beijing and Anhui and Guizhou provinces took swift action to ensure public health. The number of people infected dropped to 160, with 61 fatalities in February, the commission said.
According to a statement released after the meeting, live poultry markets where infected birds are detected must be immediately closed, as exposure to infected poultry is one of the main routes to human infection.
It was decided at the meeting to upgrade the sector in areas where markets have been hit by the virus, by ordering that poultry be raised in large factories before being slaughtered at designated sites and transported via cold-chain logistics to supermarkets. By doing this, consumer safety will be further ensured, as fewer people will be exposed to infected poultry.
The statement said sufficient medical supplies and funds will be provided for all emergencies and other necessary medical treatment. Patients will be reimbursed for their medical bills through the country's medical insurance system.
Shu Yuelong, director of the National Center for Influenza, said there was no evidence to show the virus can be transmitted easily between humans. He added that people should avoid touching infected poultry, or exposure to any live poultry markets, which are two of the most common entry points for human infections.
Prevention measures start with stringent control over live poultry at the source; so it was decided to impose stricter surveillance on the breeding and transportation of live poultry. Disinfection and quarantine measures will also be strengthened. Local markets that detect the virus must be closed as soon as possible, and the animals must be destroyed, the statement said.
China has invested in the surveillance and management of the virus since 2013. However, obvious symptoms take time to become apparent after infection, making prevention and control measures more complicated, the World Organization for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said in a communique on 17 March.
The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said the same day that any outbreak will not be of large scale, as it is difficult for humans to pass the virus on.
The past four years have seen a new outbreak of the virus, along with fatalities, says Du Zhengyu, a disease-control doctor in Anqing, Anhui province.
"The government is taking market management measures by shutting down live poultry markets that impose potential threats to people living nearby. More important, members of the public should be cautious themselves."
Mr Du suggested that people stay alert and cautious about any direct contact with live poultry, and they should hesitate to buy live animals. In addition, anyone who has cold-like symptoms should go to a hospital for a checkup and treatment, he said.
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