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Government Keeps Up Measures Against Bird Flu

By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Atom Markarian

The Armenian authorities remained on a high alert over a possible spread of bird flu from neighboring Turkey on Wednesday, saying that preventive measures against the virus continue to be taken across the country.

“Given the situation in Turkey, we continue to take all necessary measures to keep the virus out of Armenia,” Grisha Baghian, head of the Agriculture Ministry’s State Veterinary Inspectorate, told reporters.

Those measures include a mandatory disinfection of all vehicles arriving from Iran and Georgia. Also, teams of doctors deployed at the Armenian border crossings by the Health Ministry in Yerevan conduct selective examinations of individuals entering the country.

The health authorities have not identified any instances of the deadly disease in Armenia so far despite a surge in the number of chicken deaths reported by local villagers. “We have already examined more than a hundred carcasses of wild and domestic birds at the National Veterinary Laboratory in the last two months,” said Baghian. “We did not detect bird flu in the process.”

President Robert Kocharian, according to a spokeswoman, is informed by senior government officials about relevant developments on a daily basis.

Elizabeth Danielian, an official at the Yerevan office of the World Health Organization, acknowledged that the situation remains under control despite the proximity of a village in eastern Turkey where three children were killed by the virus last week. “We can’t say that the situation has become so grave that Armenia is in serious danger,” she said. “We have not reached that point yet. But it is necessary to study Turkey’s experience, draw lessons and perhaps take more active steps.”

The bird flu scare has already cut the consumption of poultry and eggs in Armenia, the bulk of them locally produced. According to some unofficial estimates, sales of those products have tumbled by half in recent days.

But one of Armenia’s largest fowl firms, Max Group, estimates the loss at just 15 percent. “Consumers are concerned about small manufacturers and villagers, but they trust larger manufacturers,” its sales director, Hayk Martirosian, told RFE/RL.

He said the company’s losses mainly result from poultry import restrictions imposed by the Georgian government. Max Group exports a large part of its production to Georgia.

Martirosian was also confident about the company’s immunity to bird flu, arguing that its main poultry factory located 20 kilometers north of Yerevan has been in quarantine for the past three months. “We have further toughened safety measures there,” he said. “We don’t have concerns because we operate with European technology and are totally immune [to the virus]. It can’t penetrate our farm.”

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