China's Foshan city says bird flu 'grim', extends market cleaning periods

BEIJING (Reuters) - Foshan, a city in China’s Guangdong province, said it will extend the monthly cleaning periods for live poultry markets for the next three months to help control the spread of virulent bird flu, with authorities warning the situation is “grim”.

The move for the first three months of the year came as authorities in the city of more than 8 million people warned in a statement that all neighboring cities have reported human infections of the H7N9 strain of the virus.

State media Xinhua said it had registered its second case.

Foshan usually shuts markets for one day each month for cleaning and sterilization in the first three months of each year when birds and people are most susceptible to the flu, but this year that will increase to three days, the Foshan Health and Family Planning Bureau said in a statement on its website.

The monthly shutdowns, covering all live poultry markets in the city, will be effective from the 16th to the 18th for the first three months of the year.

Guangzhou, the capital of the southern province, announced a similar move earlier this week.

The province of Guangdong registered 14 cases of human infection in December out of a total of 106 across the country, according to government releases. China has culled over 175,000 birds following five outbreaks among poultry.

While markets and farmers typically ramp up sterilization and cleaning regimes during the winter, the issue has raised concerns this year as nearby countries South Korea and Japan battle particularly severe outbreaks.

Three cities in eastern China’s Jiangsu province suspended live poultry trading after neighboring provinces reported human bird flu cases. Local governments in Fujian and Anhui provinces have also restricted poultry trade.

Reporting by Hallie Gu and Josephine Mason; Editing by Tom Hogue