EUROPE yesterday began to tighten measures to combat bird flu after dead swans infected with the virus were found in Germany and Austria. But in the Balearics, the Bird Flu Commission said after its meeting yesterday, that no new restrictions would be introduced for the time being. The Balearic Commission yesterday, however, decided to step up its search for dead birds in the wetlands, and the analysis of wild and domestic birds, but said it would not be extending the defined areas at risk and the restrictions already in force because it believes that the danger of infected birds being found is very low, although it could rise in Spring. Antoni Pallicer, the director general of the Public Health department, was speaking at the end of a meeting with this committee, formed by managers and experts from the Balearic Ministries of Health, Agriculture and Environment. He said that there was no cause for alarm about this disease manifesting within the Balearics. Pallicer explained that up to now 266 tests had been done on birds in different wetlands and nearby farms throughout the islands, the majority of which has proved negative. There are another 22 still being analysed but there is no reason to think that they will be positive. The possibility of finding cases of birds or animals with the H5N1 virus (the virus which causes bird flu) is “very low” added Pallicer which is why he has ruled out extending the defined areas at risk and the current restrictions although there will be more tests in the wetlands and farms by environmental officers. He explained that there was a high risk area, the Albufera on Majorca and the five towns which surround it. Because of this the Balearic Government has established some areas for special vigilance: on Majorca Son Navate in Felanitx and El Salobrar in Campos; on Minorca Es Grau and Lluriach; on Ibiza Ses Salines; and two lakes on Formentera. The director general for the Environment, Antonio Gomez, insisted that it was not very likely that cases of bird flu would be found in the islands and said that the cases in countries like Italy, where swans had been infected, were exceptional. He said that there could be more risk in April and May when migratory birds are returning to their natural habitats from countries where there have been cases of bird flu, although the possibility is still very unlikely. If a bird was suspected of carrying the disease, the commission would establish a radius of at least 3 kilometres around the area for “maximum protection”. German authorities are now focussing on preventing movement of livestock and have brought forward a ban on keeping poultry out of doors to February 17 from March 1. In Austria all poultry trade has been banned for at least 30 days in the area where the swans were found, and farmers will have to confine their poultry to barns. Poultry markets and shows have all been banned. Sweden has ordered farmers to keep chickens and turkeys indoors and Norway has imposed a similar ban and stepped up checks. The Netherlands extended its ban to the whole country and Belgium said it will impose curbs on keeping birds outside from March 1. In Denmark the Veterinary and Food Administration has ordered that all flocks with more than 100 birds should be locked up under fixed roofs. The French Government has extended its ban on keeping poultry outdoors to the whole country following advice from the national food safety agency.
The Slovenian Veterinary Administration has ordered the confinement of all poultry in the country and told people to stay away from wild birds and Switzerland has ordered a nationwide poultry lock-up from February 20. The World Animal Health Organisation says the cases do not necessarily mean the disease has spread to domestic flocks.