The bird flu outbreak on the northern German island of Rügen has spread to the mainland, officials say. Meanwhile new cases of H5N1 infection in Italy, France and India raise the threat of a global pandemic.
It started with dead swans - bird flu is spreading in Germany
Deadly bird flu was detected for the first time on the German mainland, animal health experts said Sunday.
The Friedrich-Löffler Institute for animal health said two new cases of the H5N1 virus that can be fatal to humans were detected in a buzzard and a gull found dead in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Pomerania. Earlier Sunday, 18 new cases of H5N1 were confirmed on the Baltic island of Rügen, also part of the state.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday surveyed measures taken to combat bird flu on Rügen. "The situation is serious," she said after meeting with local crisis teams working to contain the outbreak.
She said that if the situation worsened, "the federal government will be present with all the means at its disposal."
Ministers rush to stem the wave of infection
Mecklenburg-Pomerania's agriculture minister, Till Backhaus, said the 18 new cases on Rügen included swans, cormorants, geese and a buzzard. He said the state would begin slaughtering domestic fowl including chickens and ducks Sunday as a precaution to prevent a broader outbreak of the virus. Backhaus declined to say how many birds would be killed.
Meanwhile 19 Bundeswehr army specialists were sent to Rügen to disinfect vehicles and people who may have come in contact with the virus, a defense ministry spokesman said. All vehicles and bicycles leaving the island had their tires decontaminated in special disinfectant baths. Pedestrians were told to have their shoes disinfected.
The island is popular with tourists and has been inundated with reporters since the outbreak earlier this month, which experts said increased the risk of the virus being carried.
"The problem is that journalists get very close to the dead animals and also film the collection of cadavers," the president of the Friedrich Löffler Institute for Animal Health, Thomas Mettenleiter, said. "Then the camera teams go with their contaminated equipment and clothing directly where the birds are. That is completely irresponsible and exactly what we have been trying to prevent."
Germany has confirmed three cases of the highly pathogenic strain of the H5N1 virus and was awaiting confirmation of another 10 from a European Union approved laboratory in England.
Emergency measures urged as lock-down takes hold
Health Minister Ulla Schmidt called on Germany's 16 states to ensure that anti-viral medications such as Tamiflu and Relenza are available for 20 percent of the population.
Germany has begun enforcing an order to keep all poultry indoors, joining the Netherlands, Slovenia, Denmark, France, Greece, Luxembourg and Sweden in doing so. More infected birds were found in Italy, Romania and France.
France faces economic implications as bird flu arrives
French authorities vowed to spare no effort in containing avian influenza after the country became the sixth in the European Union, and the most westerly, to be hit by the virus.
Europe's top producer and the world's fourth-largest exporter of poultry, France confirmed that H5N1 had been identified in a wild duck found dead in the central-eastern Ain region.
The plight of EU poultry producers, faced with plummeting sales, will be discussed by agriculture ministers Monday. Sales are down by 70 percent in Italy, 40 to 50 percent in Greece and 15 percent in France.
Virus spreading in India
In India, officials in the remote district of Nandurbar in western Maharashtra state launched a door-to-door check for people with fever, and continued a mass cull of between 300,000 and half a million birds. Three young children with flu-like symptoms were hospitalised on Monday, joining a woman and a child who were placed in an isolation ward the previous day.
"There is no confirmed case of human avian influenza. I would like to assure the situation is closely monitored and under control," Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss told parliament. His statement came after preliminary tests on Sunday on a dead farmer suspected to have been India's first human victim proved to be negative for the disease.
Indian shares dropped on Monday as investors fretted about the economic impact. Domestic poultry prices fell up to 40 percent and were likely to remain depressed for a couple of weeks, Shashi Kapur, president of the Poultry Federation of India, told Reuters. On Monday, Pakistan and Nepal banned poultry imports from Indian and Bangladesh said it had ordered a high alert along its porous border with India to prevent any poultry smuggling. Indian analysts have warned if the outbreak is not contained the economic costs to Asia's third-largest economy -- which is forecast to grow around 8 percent in the financial year to March 2006 -- would be "very, very high".