The warnings are among the more unusual pronouncements by officials in Asian nations as bird flu fears spread faster than the virus itself.
“Bird owners should not kiss their pets,” Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said in a statement outlining precautions people should take when handling their feathered friends.
On Tuesday, Vietnam banned the sale of duck blood pudding – a specialty appetizer that aficionados say is too much of a tradition to give up, although it’s been blamed for passing bird flu to people.
“I still eat it. Not every day, but three or four times a week,” said restaurant owner Pham Van Vinh. He sold up to 300 bowls of the cold, congealed treat every day before recent warnings scared some customers away. “I’m not afraid.”
Made from the raw blood of freshly slaughtered ducks or geese and mixed with boiled organs, the dish was linked to at least one bird flu death last year.
But Vietnam, which has been hardest hit by the H5N1 virus with more than 40 deaths, has also offered citizens and tourists a bit of comfort: Anyone sickened by the virus in the communist country will be treated at hospitals – free of charge.
The Philippines and China’s largest city, Shanghai, have also announced strict new policies to try to remain bird-flu free.
Shanghai officials say they will disinfect the shoe soles of all travellers arriving by land, sea or air, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. The report was unclear how the sterilization would be done or how authorities planned to enforce such precautions on the millions of people entering the city by road each day.
In the Philippines, officials announced that all athletes from bird flu-affected countries coming to Manila for the 23rd Southeast Asian Games this month would be banned from visiting aviaries and poultry farms – just in case that was on their itinerary. Health officials have expressed concern the virus could be carried into the archipelago on clothing or shoes.
Philippines officials say the virus
In addition, a northern Philippine mountain town cancelled a bird hunting tradition that draws scores of tourists each year. Visitors will be banned this year from going to Sagada to trap migratory birds at night with nets, after attracting the fowl with lanterns or small fires.
Wild birds have been blamed for spreading bird flu across Asia and into Europe. The disease has ravaged Asian poultry stocks and killed at least 62 people in Southeast Asia.
Health experts fear the virus will mutate into a form easily spread from person to person, possibly igniting a global outbreak that kills millions. So far, most human cases have been traced to contact with birds.
Many Asian countries have already banned poultry imports from affected countries along with increased surveillance, including screening passengers at airports for fever or other flu-like symptoms.
Some, like New Zealand, have announced plans to seal off all borders if human-to-human transmission is reported. And last Friday, Hong Kong lawmaker Tommy Cheung proposed a solution to the legislature for stopping bird flu altogether:
“Perhaps what we should do is give each person a gun, and when we see a migrant bird, we can just shoot it down, so Hong Kong would be a much safer place.”