A new bird flu-suspected case was reported Monday in North Chungcheong Province despite the South Korean government’s strengthened efforts to contain the further spread of the virus.
A large number of ducks in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province, showed common symptoms of the bird flu, with a sharp drop in the spawning rate and deaths of more than 100,000 ducks over the last two days.
The quarantine officials immediately limited the access to surrounding areas and took disinfection measures. A probe is underway to confirm the infection.
The province was among the areas imposed with a half-day lockdown.
Earlier the day, the government enforced the partial “stand-still” order, banning all vehicles, animals and people from moving in and out of poultry farms from 6 a.m. for 12 hours in Sejong, Daejeon, and Gyeonggi and Chungcheong provinces.
"We need to thoroughly sterilize (the affected areas) before the mass human migration begins for the Lunar New Year holiday. We ask for citizens’ cooperation,” President Park Geun-hye said on Monday.
Health authorities already began sterilizing areas suspected to be affected by the virus, such as Sapgyo Lake in Dangjin, South Chungcheong Province, and Sihwa Lake in Anseong, Gyeonggi Province.
"The government is cooperating with local governments to inspect and sterilize infection sources and stop the further spread of the avian flu virus. We will terminate the disease as soon as possible,” Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Lee Joon-won said in a press briefing.
The ministry had warned that a 48-hour nationwide lockdown could be enforced if the H5N8 virus spreads further across the country at the current rate.
On Saturday, the H5N8 strain of avian influenza hit a chicken farm in Buyeo, South Chungcheong Province.
This marks the first chicken infection since the first outbreak in Gochang, North Jeolla Province, on Jan. 17.
The ministry on Sunday confirmed the sixth case of infection at a duck farm in Haenam, South Jeolla Province. The town at the southern tip of the peninsula is about 130 kilometers from the first outbreak region.
Ministry officials said migratory birds are suspected to be the cause of the widening infection, with 13 of 82 birds tested proving to be infected with the highly pathogenic strain of AI.
The infected migratory birds were captured in Seocheon, South Chungcheong Province, and Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province, they said.
Newly suspected cases continued to stream in, including a duck farm in Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province. The area is only 80 kilometers south of the capital city of Seoul.
As the virus is getting nearer to the capital, local authorities began culling a large number of chickens and ducks to rein in the spread.
So far, 664,000 poultry have been slaughtered and 813,000 more are to be culled, the Agriculture Ministry said.
The AI scare is also hitting duck and chicken sales on the local market, just ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday that starts on Thursday.
Local retailer E-Mart said sales of duck and chicken on Sunday dropped by 72 percent and 22 percent, respectively, from the previous week.
Worldwide, there has been no reported case in which the H5N8 strain has been transferred to humans, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
South Korea had outbreaks of bird flu in 2003, 2006, 2008 and 2010.
More than 6 million poultry were culled at more than 280 farms across the country during the last outbreak in 2010.
By Suk Gee-hyun
Lee Hyun-jeong contributed to this article. -- Ed.