BEIJING, April 4 China will swiftly communicate
to the outside world and its own people details of a new strain
of deadly bird flu, the health ministry said, following
complaints it had been too slow to report on the outbreak and
suspicion of a SARS-like cover-up.
A total of nine people in China have been confirmed to have
contracted the new bird flu strain, H7N9, all in the east of the
country. Three infected people have died.
Chinese internet users and some newspapers have questioned
why it took so long for the government to announce the new
cases, especially as two of the victims first fell ill in
February. The government has said it needed time to correctly
identify the virus.
In 2003, authorities initially tried to cover up an epidemic
of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which emerged in
China and killed about a 10th of the 8,000 people it infected
In a statement issued late on Wednesday, China's National
Health and Family Planning Commission said it was mobilising
resources nationwide to fight the outbreak, and would be open
"Maintain regular communications about the virus and
preventative work with agricultural and forestry authorities in
a timely manner, and report to the World Health Organisation,
Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau and the world," it said in a
statement on its website (www.moh.gov.cn).
"Report on the virus in a timely way to the population and
spread scientific knowledge via experts and issuing question and
answer (statements)," the ministry added.
China has a chequered record when it comes to tackling
disease outbreaks, which some officials have previously sought
to cover up, fearing attracting unwanted attention from the
While the official Xinhua news agency said it was unfair to
compare SARS with H7N9, as the new bird flu virus has yet to
show signs of human-to-human transmission, it did warn the
government's credibility was on the line.
"If there is anything that SARS has taught China and its
government, it's that one cannot be too careful or too honest
when it comes to deadly pandemics. The last 10 years have taught
the government a lot, but it is far from enough," it said in a
The World Health Organization said it was "following the
event closely" and was in contact with Chinese authorities,
which it said were actively investigating the cases amid
heightened disease surveillance.
Flu experts in laboratories across the world are picking
through the DNA sequence data of samples isolated from the
patients to assess its pandemic potential.
In Hong Kong, authorities said they were stepping up
monitoring but assured the public that the live chickens
imported from the mainland were safe.
"We have a registration system for all farms on the mainland
which supply live chickens to Hong Kong," said Secretary for
Food and Health Ko Wing-man, according to the South China
"If there's any bird flu outbreak at the farm or at any
place within 13 kilometres (eight miles) of the farm, we'll stop
imports from that particular chicken farm."
China has yet to find any animals infected with H7N9.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Clare
Baldwin in HONG KONG; Editing by Michael Perry)