EU bans import of exotic birds to combat avian flu

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The Independent Online

The move yesterday, strongly backed by the UK Government, follows the death in quarantine in the UK, of a parrot that was infected with the H5N1 strain of the virus that has killed around 60 people in Asia.

However, to the Government's embarrassment, it emerged that Britain opposed the idea of an EU ban on pet bird imports earlier this year, before bird flu reached Europe. Officials said that, at the time, such an embargo was considered "disproportionate to the risks", but that circumstances have now changed.

EU scientific experts agreed last night to the measures, which will last at least until the end of November, saying they "aim to strengthen further the EU's defences against avian influenza". At the end of next month experts will assess whether to continue with the embargo.

The ban covers all captive live birds other than poultry that are imported for commercial purposes. The European Commission said that a total of 232,000 were imported into the 25 EU countries in the past three months.

EU countries will be able to allow a maximum of five birds travelling with their owners to enter from third countries on condition that they undergo a 30-day quarantine period at either end of the journey.

Birds can be moved between approved zoos and similar institutions. Hatching eggs of non-poultry birds can be imported for use in authorised hatcheries if their shells are decontaminated upon arrival, or if they are being sent to zoos.

Julian Hughes, the head of species conservation at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, welcomed a ban on the pet trade in exotic wild birds. "The pet trade is a dangerous back-door route for avian flu to get to the UK, and we welcome the UK Government's support for a ban across the EU," he said.

China said it had discovered a new outbreak of the virus among geese in the eastern Anhui province, the second new case in a week. Vietnam announced it will consider a ban on live poultry in urban areas. Although the H5N1 strain of bird flu cannot yet be transmitted from person to person, it has managed to infect more than 120 people in Asia, killing 62 who came into close, direct contact with live, infected poultry.

The World Health Organisation said yesterday that Thailand has confirmed a further human case of H5N1 bird flu. The patient is a seven-year-old boy from Kanchanaburi Province who developed symptoms on 16 October and was hospitalised three days later. The boy's father died on 19 October after contracting bird flu from poultry, although experts believe that the boy caught the virus directly from infected birds.

These are the first two confirmed cases in Thailand in a year and brings the total number of cases there to 19. Thirteen Thais have died of the disease.

Doctors in Indonesia have also reported two further cases of H5N1 avian flu in humans. The first was the four-year-old nephew of a 21-year-old man from Lampung Province on Sumatra Island who was reported with symptoms on 10 October. The boy developed symptoms on 4 October, but after hospital treatment made a full recovery and returned home. It is believed that he caught the virus directly from poultry.

The second new case in Indonesia is a 23-year-old man from West Java who was hospitalised on 28 September and died two days later. This brings the total number of H5N1 cases in humans to seven, four of whom have died.