Poultry lockdown to beat risk of avian flu

Immediate measures to protect poultry and captive birds from a dangerous strain of avian flu have been announced by the Government's chief vet.

A 'prevention zone' covering the whole of England will last for 30 days, the Government said.

A type of highly pathogenic avian flu, H5N8, has been found in dead wild birds in countries across Europe, from Poland to France, although no cases have been found in the UK, but the winter bird migration season heightens the risk of the strain being spread.

To combat any risk, a 30-day ‘Prevention Zone’ covering the whole of England means all keepers of poultry and capture birds must keep their birds indoors, or take steps to separate them from wild birds.

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Fears of any knock-on affect on the poultry industry’s preparations for the busy Christmas turkey season were dismissed out of hand by the chief executive of the British Poultry Council, Richard Griffiths, who said: “Poultry vets liaised with Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and it is sensible protection at this time of the year.”

Chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens said: “While no cases of H5N8 avian flu have been found in the UK, and Public Health England advises the public health threat is low, we are closely monitoring the situation across Europe and have scaled up surveillance in response to the heightened risk.”

Mr Gibbens said the new zone was a precaution and would give bird keepers time to put in place appropriate biosecurity measures.

Mr Gibbens added: “Even when birds are housed a risk of infection remains so this must be coupled with good biosecurity, for example disinfecting clothing and equipment, reducing poultry movement and minimising contact between poultry and wild birds.”