"We have to do all we can to avoid this problem here," Russian television showed Putin telling senior officials on Tuesday. "If additional funding is necessary, the government should provide it without fail and promptly."

 

Gennady Onishchenko, Russia's chief state epidemiologist, has told Putin that Russian doctors at airports and railway stations have started examining people arriving from Turkey.

 

Onishchenko was quoted on Sunday as advising Russians to avoid travelling to Turkey. Russia has been battling with bird flu in poultry since July, culling more than 600,000 domestic fowl. The virus has been confined in eight Russian regions from Siberia to European Russia. But no case of human infection has so far been registered in Russia.

 

By the end of December, quarantine had been lifted from all but two locations, one in Astrakhan region and the other in Kalmykia, both located on the Caspian Sea.

 

Turkey toll

  

15 people have so far been
infected in Turkey

Meanwhile, Turkey has confirmed that 15 people have been infected with bird flu, and more than 70 people, suspected of having the virus, are undergoing tests. Three children have already died of the flu in eastern Turkey.

 

The World Health Organisation, WHO, says there is no evidence so far of human-to-human transmission of the virus, but experts fear the H5N1 strain could mutate enough to pass easily from person to person and spark a pandemic.

 

Bird flu has killed at least 76 people since late 2003; the victims were all in East Asia until the outbreak in Turkey.

 

Germany on alert

 

Germany has increased customs checks on people entering from Turkey, a minister said in an interview published on Tuesday.

 

The minister said Germany may also re-impose a ban on keeping poultry outdoors, in order to protect them from infection by migratory birds, but did not see an additional bird flu threat despite the recent outbreak in Turkey.

 

Gert Lindemann, the country's junior agriculture minister, in an interview with the Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung, said the Friedrich Loeffler Scientific Institute, which advises German authorities on the risk from bird flu, had concluded that the new Turkish cases did not increase the danger faced by Germany.

 

Germany has increased customs
checks on people from Turkey

However, customs checks on people entering Germany from Turkey had been increased to stop illegal imports of poultry products, he said.

 

Germany may also re-impose a ban on keeping farm poultry in the open air as a preventative measure when the new migration season for wild birds starts.

 

"At the moment, I expect that the order to keep poultry in pens may be renewed in February or March this year when migrating birds return from their winter quarters," Lindemann said.

 

Germany confined all poultry to their pens in mid-October after migrating birds spread bird flu close to Moscow, Turkey and Romania.

 

The ban was removed on 15 December as the disease had not moved westwards, substantially, despite fears that migrating birds would spread it around Europe.

   

Lindemann said wild birds returning from their winter quarters needed less rest than in the summer season but their excrement posed a threat