Chinese authorities slaughtered over 20,000 birds at a poultry market in Shanghai on Friday as the death toll from a new strain of bird flu mounted to six, spreading concern overseas and sparking a sell-off in airline shares in Europe and Hong Kong.
The local government in Shanghai said the Huhuai market for live birds had been shut down and 20,536 birds had been culled after authorities detected the H7N9 virus from samples of pigeons in the market. Other live poultry markets in the city will be closed down from Saturday, it said.
All the 14 reported infections from the H7N9 bird flu strain have been in eastern China and at least four of the dead are in Shanghai, a city of 23 million people and the showpiece of China’s vibrant economy.
The latest death was of a 64-year-old man in Zhejiang province, state news agency Xinhua said on Friday, adding that none of the 55 people who had close contact with him had shown symptoms of infection.
Shanghai authorities stressed the H7N9 virus remained sensitive to the drug Tamiflu and those who were diagnosed early could be cured.
“We currently have enough reserves of Tamiflu to meet with the current outbreak,” Wu Fan, director of the Shanghai Center for Disease Control & Prevention, told a news conference.
Tamiflu is made by Roche Holding AG.
Airline shares tumbled in European markets on fears the outbreak could become widespread. The STOXX Europe 600 travel and leisure sector index fell as much as 1.6 percent, the biggest laggard among European sectors.
“The sector is reacting to fears of a new pandemic of bird flu in China, which would hurt air traffic,” said a Paris-based airline sector analyst.
In Hong Kong, the overall index closed at a four-month low, led by falls in airline shares over fears of diminished demand for air travel. Air China slumped 9.8 percent, its worst single-day loss in nearly four years.
“The bird flu issue is at the top of people’s minds now,” said Alfred Chan, chief dealer at Cheer Pearl Investment in Hong Kong.
In Shanghai, the rising death toll prompted some residents to stay away from markets with live chickens and ducks.
“I’m only getting my groceries at the large supermarkets now because I don’t think it is safe to visit the wet markets anymore,” said 38-year-old Shao Linxia, adding she had also stopped buying poultry since news of the bird flu surfaced.
“We all remember SARS and how quickly it could spread, so we are obviously worried.”
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Contributed by Fayen Wong and Clare Baldwin of reuters.com.