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SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea will cull 3 percent of its total poultry population to curb an outbreak of bird flu that has hit a number of farms across the nation, its agriculture ministry said on Tuesday.
Since a severe strain of bird flu known as H5N6 cropped up on Nov. 18, Asia's fourth-largest economy has stepped up its quarantine measures to contain the virus, including issuing a 48-hour nationwide standstill order for this last weekend.
Despite the efforts, Korea's Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said in a statement on Tuesday that four new cases of H5N6 had been confirmed in central South Korea.
That brings the total number of infected birds to 13 since H5N6 appeared about two weeks ago, according to the statement. Nine other farm birds are also being tested for suspected infections, it said.
To contain the further spread of the virus, the ministry will slaughter at least 2.78 million birds, including 1.68 million that have already been culled, the ministry said.
That would be nearly 3.3 percent of South Korea's total poultry population of 84.7 million.
Sales of chicken, eggs and ducks at three major discount stores - E-Mart Inc, Lotte Mart and Homeplus Stores Co [ELARE.UL] - have not dropped as consumers know that poultry products are safe to eat as long as they are cooked properly, company spokesmen at the three retailers said.
Supplies of chicken and duck meat and eggs have not tightened, an agriculture ministry official said, but it would have to implement measures such as importing more to meet demand if the bird flu outbreak was prolonged.
South Korea's poultry supply is self-sufficient, but it still imports some chicken products, mainly from Brazil, Denmark and the United States.
South Korea's bird flu outbreak comes amid a growing number of cases in several other countries, including France and Germany. Besides South Korea, the other most recent cases were reported on Friday in Japan, the first outbreak of avian flu there in nearly two years.
Cases of human infections from the H5N6 virus have previously been reported elsewhere, with the virus killing at least 10 people in China since April 2014. No cases of human infection have been detected in South Korea.
Reporting by Jane Chung; Editing by Tom Hogue