Hong Kong residents are forced to lay off chicken after the city state’s government decided to cull around 20,000 live chickens amid fears of an outbreak of the deadly bird flu virus.
Officials began the cull of the city’s livestock on Tuesday after the H7N9 virus was found among poultry imported from mainland China at the Cheung Sha Wan Market. The market, Hong Kong’s only wholesale poultry market, is now shut for 21 days for disinfection. The government has also banned the import of live chickens from the mainland for three weeks.
A total of 22,604 birds, including 16,984 chickens, 2,898 silky fowls, 1,080 pheasants and 1,642 pigeons were killed at the market and were disposed to landfills, according to a government statement. The chickens were given a “chemical treatment” to kill them, an agriculture department spokesman has said.
The mass slaughter is Hong Kong’s first in three years and comes just days before the Lunar New Year, when sales of live chicken typically rise as residents prepare for the holiday celebrations.
Although the cull has raised concerns of a shortage for chicken—chicken dishes are considered a traditional holiday fare—Chinese restaurants said they would have to settle for frozen poultry stocks for the New Year.
“Frozen chickens are safe and taste similar to fresh ones, and Hongkongers have become very used to them. In a way, frozen chickens are very fresh, too. They are killed only the night before,” said restaurateur Yeung Wai-sing, chairman of the Association for the Hong Kong Catering Services Management.
Live poultry traders bore much of the impact; their fowl have nowhere to go.
Local chicken farmers questioned why chicken imports suspected to contain the virus had not been stopped at border checkpoints.
“The government should be held fully responsible. It should have stopped the chickens at the border until they were confirmed to be clear of bird flu,” wholesaler Cheng Chin-keung told the South China Morning Post.
“Now the chickens from China get mixed with local chickens in the wholesale market and all of them have to be culled.”
The H7N9 strain have killed two men in Hong Kong since December. Both had recently returned from mainland China.
By Maesie Bertumen