The biggest-ever cull of chickens and other poultry has been ordered in South Korea, with millions of birds being gassed to fight an avian flu outbreak spreading at what the government has called an unprecedented rate.
On Friday, the Agriculture Ministry said it had ordered the cull of 4 million more birds, which would take to 16 million the total number killed since mid-November. This figure is almost one-fifth of the poultry population and beats the 14 million birds which were culled following an outbreak of AI in 2014 which was finally brought under control in November 2015.
In this latest outbreak, the first case was reported in the country on Nov. 18th and according to government information 54 outbreaks of the virus have been recorded in poultry since this date. The country has now raised its avian influenza alert status to the highest level for the first time, because of the rapid spread of the H5N6 virus.
“It appears to be more highly pathogenic and it is spreading more quickly than the H5N8 virus that occurred in 2014,” Agriculture Minister Kim Jae-soo told reporters. “We have appointed a central emergency measures headquarters to oversee the situation and reinforce our pan-governmental response measures,” added Kim.
The agriculture ministry said it would consider a temporary shutdown of slaughterhouses and animal feed factories if necessary to limit the spread of the virus. The ministry had already stepped up quarantine measures, including a temporary nationwide ban on poultry transport.
The government has announced that there are enough funds to aid farmers and those in the industry who face financial hardship in the wake of this outbreak.