- Title: GERMANY: German Chancellor Angela Merkel alarmed by bird flu spread in Germany.
- Date: 21st February 2006
- Summary: CLOSE OF MERKEL
- Embargoed: 8th March 2006 12:00
- Location: Germany
- Country: Germany
- Topics: Environment / Natural World,Health
- Reuters ID: LVAAB7ERT5JIE2LN3AXYR48WROMG
- Aspect Ratio:
- Story Text: Concerned by the rapid spread of bird flu on Ruegen, German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday (February 19) paid a lightning visit to the Baltic Sea Island that lies in her home district on Sunday.
Responding to growing nationwide fears of the deadly H5N1 disease first detected in Germany five days ago, Merkel made a surprise visit to a crisis management centre in the northern town of Bergen and inspected the island's conditions herself.
"The situation is serious," Merkel said.
Merkel's visit to the island came amid growing public criticism of the slow efforts by local authorities to set up quarantine zones after the first infected birds -- two swans -- were found earlier last week.
The total number of dead wild birds infected with H5N1 has now risen to 59 and fears that the disease will spread to the mainland or to farm birds have been rising.
"Right now it's important that we do everything possible to keep the wild birds away from the farm poultry and the good news is that so far there has been no infestation," Merkel said.
Sections of the sparsely populated resort island that lies 200 km (120 miles) north of Berlin and just off the coast have been closed to the public and the entire island has been put under close observation.
There has been sharp criticism of local officials for failing to quickly close off areas where dead birds were found or properly police the marked off zones. They have also been attacked for failing to retrieve dead birds fast enough.
Specialists from a German army anti-nuclear, biological and chemical weapons unit were sent to Ruegen on Sunday. They set up a decontamination centre near the main bridge to the island.
Till Backhaus, agriculture minister in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, on Sunday ordered the culling of especially endangered farm animals on the island.
Federal Agriculture Minister Horst Seehofer recently brought forward a nationwide ban on keeping farm poultry out of doors.
Avian influenza has flared anew in recent weeks, spreading quickly among birds in Europe and parts of Africa, prompting authorities to impose bans on poultry trade, mass culling in infected areas and vaccinations of poultry flocks.
The H5N1 virus is known to have infected 171 people worldwide since late 2003, killing 93 of them. Two hundred million birds across Asia, parts of the Middle East, Europe and Africa have died of the virus or been culled.
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