It was with a big sigh of relief that all of us heard that the bird flu epidemic had officially been declared over in India.
The official notification was celebrated with almost ritual chicken parties and the local media had a great time publicizing the people enjoying their chicken meals.
Free chicken meals were provided by some local poultry farmers in celebration of the end of the Bird-Flu outbreak in the Imphal area.
There were some minor stipulations regarding the five-kilometre secure zone with epicentre at Thangmeiband, the sight of the outbreak but it was announced that poultry meat brought in from outside the Thangmeiband security zone, would be allowed to be sold.
There was also another clause forbidding sale of eggs unless they are from outside of the culling zones.
Just how it was to be determined eggs from outside Imphal and those from Imphal, was however not explained.
All in all though, every one rejoiced in the fact that the virus had gone away.
So it was with mounting concern, that we heard about the arrests of some poultry meat vendors from the poultry meat centres in and around imphal.
This area was NOT within the Thangmeiband security zone and if the Bird-Flu virus is really over, then it was perfectly legal to sell the poultry meat and eggs in that area.
So, is the Bird-Flu outbreak NOT over as yet?
Even though we were impressed by the speed with which the Federal Government and the State Government had acted to try and root out the virus, there have been many questions regarding the origins of the outbreak that have not been answered.
A news item from the IMPHAL FREE PRESS has the following vital questions that must be addressed by the Indian Authorities immediately:
1. We still do not know where and how the virus entered the state.
2. The farm where the virus was first detected, (which is now clear of the virus), got its hatchings from the government farm at Mantripukhri. But then most other farms in the state must also have got their hatchlings from the same source.
3. How did only a single farmer come to acquire the diseased birds from an apparently shared source of the hatchlings?
4. How come even other birds belonging to the same farmer which shared the same coop as the diseased ones did not have the virus?
5. There were also suggestions that the virus could have entered the state from neighbouring Myanmar which saw an outbreak of the flu a few months earlier. How did the virus manage not to leave a trail along the way and land as if delivered by helicopter at Thangmeiband?
6. If it was migratory birds that brought the virus in, why would they leave the virus only at a chicken farm, that too in the heart of Imphal city which is not exactly a roosting place for wild birds?
It is of course good to remain vigilant against the H5N1 virus and we commend the Indian Government’s efforts in this respect as you can see from the following.
Ms. Upama Chaudury, the Joint Secretary of the Federal Agriculture Ministry of India, has reportedly asked the State Govt to heighten vigil against bird flu in and around Loktak lake as many migratory birds are expected to arrive in the lake soon.
Informing that the Forest and Wild Life Department has no active surveillance plan of its own, the Joint Secretary asked the State Government to formulate a surveillance plan.
Citing the complexities encountered during the containment drive against bird flu in Imphal town recently, she further suggested regulation on rearing poultry birds in urban area.
That is fine, however, full transparency in the efforts in the fight against the killer virus is also very important, as this fight involves not only the Government, but also the poultry farmer, the vendor of poultry meat as well as other citizens.
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