Live poultry traders in Hangzhou saw business halted Friday at the height of the Lunar New Year sales period due to the resurgent bird flu epidemic.
Hangzhou, capital city of east China’s Zhejiang province, announced Thursday that live poultry trading in its main urban areas would be halted on Friday to help contain H7N9 bird flu infections.
“So many live chickens in cages. What will I do with them?” said Li Xuemin, a live poultry vendor in the Songmuchang Open Fair in Hangzhou.
Li smoked with a glum look on his face while sitting next to his live chickens, about 40 in total, which were spreading their wings in their cages.
Li, who has been in the business for around two decades, complained about “entering the wrong business for half a lifetime,” as he had already experienced several rounds of market shutdowns due to bird flu infections.
As of Friday, Zhejiang has reported 37 cases of human H7N9 infection, the most among all regions nationwide. It was also the site of the country’s first confirmed human-to-human transmission last November.
In a circular, city authorities ordered live poultry markets in six districts to be disinfected and launched widespread monitoring over domestic fowl and birds in poultry farms, migratory bird habitats, and parks. The city’s live poultry markets and stalls were closed on Friday.
Early Friday morning, Li and his peers in the market began disinfection of their stalls and thought of ways to get rid of their live chickens and ducks.
“We have to send some to friends and relatives. As for the rest, we might slaughter them then put them in the freezer,” said Li. He added that he had decided to return to his hometown for Spring Festival early, but regretted missing out on the money-making opportunity.
The period leading up to the Spring Festival, the Chinese Lunar New Year, is traditionally the annual peak season for live poultry sales. The holiday falls on Jan. 31 this year and is an occasion when families get together in China.
Hangzhou’s two largest live poultry markets, Gouzhuang and Dajiang, closed on Wednesday.
Before its closure, live poultry trade in the Gouzhuang market totaled over 100,000 birds per day, with more than 70,000 chickens and 30,000 ducks, pigeons and geese sold daily and hundreds of fully loaded trucks pulling in and out of the market.
Now the market is quiet, with only sterilized empty cages and signs that say, “Live poultry processing forbidden, offenders fined with suspension of business.”
Jiaxing Lihua Livestock, a leading poultry enterprise in Zhejiang, suffered a massive direct loss of over 22 million yuan (US$3.63 million) in 2013.
“We prepared about three million chickens for the Lunar New Year market. When the market ban went into effect, there were still over 700,000 live chickens ready to go to market,” said Wang Zewen, chief manager with the enterprise.
“Even before the market ban, we suffered losses of about 6 yuan (US$0.99) for each chicken sold. While the market is closed, we are doomed to face even greater losses,” he said.
It is estimated that the ban will affect sales of about 10 million live poultry in the province, according to statistics released by the Zhejiang provincial poultry industry association.
On Thursday, five new human H7N9 cases were reported in Zhejiang, which has seen new H7N9 cases for the past 15 consecutive days.
Over this period, the live poultry industry has experienced a 70% drop in sales with prices falling over 50%, according to a survey on poultry businesses conducted by the association.
The neighboring city of Shanghai will also halt live poultry trading from the Spring Festival, to April 30 each year starting in 2014.
The city reported two more deaths from the H7N9 bird flu, raising the toll from the deadly virus to four so far this year, the Shanghai mayor said Thursday, without giving further details.