But the disease is no laughing matter. We have banned the
import of chicken from Thailand and we must ensure that our soldiers do not let
their guard down in preventing any attempt to smuggle chickens across the
The Thai government has come under fire from the public for an alleged cover-up
but the authorities have maintained that it was actually a "screw-up" and there
was no attempt to conceal the disease.
Thai government spokesman Jakrapob Penkair blamed government agencies for
"misinterpretation of procedures" and "inadequate information relayed", saying
there was a distinction between a cover-up and inefficiency.
But the damage has been done with two lives lost. The Thai government did a lousy
job by taking things lightly.
Accountability, transparency and the availability of information must always be
upheld in dealing with matters involving the public, particularly their health.
Thailand, it seems, has not learnt from the SARS outbreak.
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra revealed that the famous Chatuchak
weekend market tested positive for the virus and poultry culling would
With thousands of stalls selling products from local handicraft to pets, the
market is regarded as a compulsory stop for tourists. By naming the market as
one of the two places in Bangkok hit by the bird flu, tourism will certainly be
The irony is that earlier this year, Thailand declared 2004 as the Year of Food
Safety. For the sake of its credibility, Thailand must now seriously handle the
Singapore, which imports 120,000 live chickens from Malaysia daily, has
strengthened its checks on our 50 to 60 trucks at the Tuas checkpoint. The
precautions include checking for infection – chickens with purple necks, combs
and legs or swollen heads and legs.
Documents detailing each chicken's journey from farm to market are verified as
a form of contact tracing. If a bird is found with the virus, the entire
consignment can be traced and culled immediately.
Learning from the SARS experience, Singapore has gone one step further – it has
designated Tan Tock Seng Hospital as the place for all patients suspected of
having contracted bird flu.
The Singapore government has emphasised that unlike SARS, the bird virus is not
transmitted between humans. Still, bird flu victims will be treated the same
way as SARS patients. It means they will be isolated.
Experts around the world have been fighting against time to find out how the
disease has spread and one possibility is migratory birds. World Health
Organisation officials said such birds played a key role in passing the virus
by producing infected droppings that dry up, turn to dust and are inhaled by
Other possible factors include the smuggling of infected livestock,
contaminated feed, clothing and equipment, as well as over-crowded chicken
coops. A common factor among the 10 countries hit by the virus was the natural
route taken by millions of migratory birds that could have passed the virus to
Health Minister Datuk Chua Jui Meng has advised the people to take
precautionary measures if Malaysia is to remain free of the virus. He stressed
the authorities were monitoring all cases of influenza-like illness but there had
been no abnormal increase in such cases.
He said all poultry-based food, including eggs, should be thoroughly cooked
because heat would kill the virus. In other words, roasted chicken is fine but
avoid half-boiled eggs for the time being.
Deputy Agriculture Minister Datuk Seri Shariff Omar has directed chicken
farmers to check the presence of migratory birds, including egrets and terns,
which might be attracted by the food in poultry farms.
Our authorities can take other stringent measures, such as reducing the number
of crows in places like Klang, Johor Baru and George Town, which have many
eatery outlets. More checks should be conducted on restaurants that keep
livestock such as birds.
Besides being illegal zoos, they pose a health hazard to customers. The
authorities should not wait for handwritten reports before taking action
against these restaurant operators.
We also need to keep a close watch on migratory birds found in padi fields and
other areas to make sure they do not carry the virus.
But our health and civil defence agencies should consider holding a field
exercise to simulate an actual disease outbreak to test our preparedness in
By taking these steps, we would not just be fine-tuning ourselves to face any
disease outbreak but prove that we have a credible, responsible, transparent
and competent government.