Saudi culls 200,000 as bird flu fears grow

Another outbreak of deadly H5N1 strain of the disease discovered at farm close to capital Riyadh.

Over 200,000 birds are being culled in Saudi Arabia following the discovery of a new outbreak of bird flu at a farm close to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia's Agriculture Ministry said on Wednesday.

The move will bring the total number of birds culled to almost four million, raising fears that the disease could spread to other areas of the kingdom.

The farm at the centre of the latest outbreak, which specialises in producing table egg, is in the Al-Kharj region, 80 kilometres south of the Saudi capital.

It is the second table-egg farm in the Al-Kharj region to be hit by the deadly H5N1 strain of the disease, and the third in the Riyadh province in two days.

So far bird flu cases have only been detected in the central Riyadh area, but fears of the disease spreading are beginning to grow.

The ministry on Wednesday assured a press conference in Jeddah that farms surrounding the kingdom’s second-largest city, are still safe from the bird flu.

“[There have been] no reports of bird flu outbreak in Jeddah and the entire western part of Saudi. However, there is no guarantee that bird flu cannot spread here,” said Jabir Al-Shehri, head of the ministry’s Jeddah branch.

“People living in Jeddah can still enjoy eating all the poultry they want,” said Al-Shehri in the presence of representatives of major poultry farms in Jeddah who confirmed what he said.

The Al-Watan daily said on Thursday that Riyadh’s municipality had closed down several restaurants in the city that sell chicken from unidentified sources.

The municipality also reported that it helped in the arrest of several Bangladeshi expatriates transporting infected chicken from farms outside the city and selling them for less than one Saudi riyal to restaurants in Riyadh.

The ministry said 14 outbreaks of bird flu have been discovered since November 12, including the latest among 216,000 birds.

The ministry announced last week that over 3.5 million birds have been culled or are in the process of being destroyed.

It has singled out migrant birds as the source of the disease, and stressed the need to refrain from hunting them.

Saudi Arabia banned all live poultry imports after bird flu was last detected in the kingdom in March.

In April, neighbouring Kuwait culled 1.7 million birds after the strain was found.

There have been no reports of the disease spreading to humans in either country.

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