Bird flu outbreak: Over 18,000 fowls culled in Pampanga
Bird flu outbreak: Over 18,000 fowls culled in Pampanga

Darren Langit

The culling operations are extended from the initial 3 days to 6 days, with the target completion date moved to Thursday, August 17

MANILA, Philippines – More than 18,000 birds have been culled so far in San Luis, Pampanga, which has been hit by an avian influenza or bird flu outbreak.

In a news briefing on Monday, August 14, Arlene Vytiaco of the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) said 18,685 birds have been culled as of Sunday night, August 13. The culling operations began on Saturday, August 12, a day after the Department of Agriculture (DA) announced that there is an outbreak.

The DA earlier estimated that 200,000 birds would have to be culled within the quarantine zone, which covers all birds within a one-kilometer (km) radius of the affected farms.

“Para klaro, ‘yung ground zero do’n natin nililibing lahat ng manok, and then ‘yung one-km [radius] lahat ‘yung buhay na manok pati manok na tinali, ibon, ducks, pigeons, quails – all of these will have to be culled,” said Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol in the news briefing on Monday.

(To be clear, the culled chickens will be buried at ground zero, and then within the one-km radius, all of the live chickens, birds, ducks, pigeons, quails – all of these will have to be culled.)

Within the 7-km zone for surveillance, the birds will not be culled, clarified Piñol.

“Within the 7-km radius, we will not kill the chicken or the poultry or the turkey… but we will not allow the transport of the fowls and the products – meat, eggs – from outside of the 7 km to other parts of Pampanga or other parts of Luzon,” he said.

Piñol also announced earlier that fowl shipments from Luzon to other parts of the Philippines are temporarily banned. He described this on Monday as a “precautionary measure.”

“Merong misconception na lahat ng manok na galing ng Pampanga, bawal [kainin] (There’s a misconception that all chickens from Pampanga are not safe for consumption). It’s not true,” the agriculture chief said.

“Outside of that, business as usual, puwera lang na ‘di pwede ilabas ng Luzon… precautionary measure lang ito (except that they cannot be transported out of Luzon… but this is just a precautionary measure).”

Culling target date moved

The culling operations were supposed to last 3 days, but Vytiaco and Piñol said they would have to extend until Thursday, August 17.

“This will run about 5 to 6 days. Ang naging problema namin dito, manpower, ‘yung tao na hahawak (The problem we’re encountering is manpower, the people who would be in charge of the culling),” Vytiaco said.

Vytiaco explained that there are usually 4,500 to 6,000 birds per cage, with just one door. 

“Kaya po ang challenge dito, ang layo-layo ng lalakbayin ng caretaker [para kunin ang mga ibon and] lahat ng miyembro ng culling team dapat properly attired … Ang init-init, maski po ang caretakers ganyan din, so init na init sila. Madali silang mapagod kaya they have to rest din in between, otherwise mag-co-collapse sila,” she said.

(The challenge here is the caretaker and the culling team would take a while to reach all the birds, and all the members of the culling team have to be in proper attire… The weather is so hot, even the caretakers have to wear the proper attire, so they really feel hot. They get tired easily so they also have to rest in between, otherwise they would collapse.)

Piñol also noted that there is still low awareness of bird flu and its effects, which is why even farmworkers themselves are afraid.

“‘Yun pong tumama sa San Luis na bird flu ay hindi po ‘yung klaseng nakakahawa mula sa manok papuntang tao … Sa ating mga kababayan, ‘wag po kayong matakot,” the agriculture chief said.

(The type of bird flu that hit San Luis is not the type that can be transmitted to humans… To our fellow Filipinos, do not be afraid.)

Impact on livelihood

While Piñol emphasized there is nothing to fear in terms of transmission or infection, he said the government is aware that farmers would be the ones suffering financially because of the bird flu outbreak.

“Devastating ‘tong epekto nito not only for the farmers of San Luis but for the farmers of Pampanga as well kasi nandoon ‘yung stigma… matatakot ‘yung mga tao bumili,” Piñol said.

(The effects of this outbreak would be devastating not only for the farmers of San Luis but for the farmers of Pampanga as well because the stigma is there… the public would be afraid to buy their poultry products.)

The entire province of Pampanga was earlier placed under a state of calamity because of the outbreak.

Affected farmers will be given compensation of P80 per culled bird – an amount that Piñol admitted “is not much” because “they will not be able to raise chickens” in the next few months.

Vytiaco explained that after the culling operations and farms have been disinfected, there would be a 21-day “rest period” before sentinel birds will be sent to the affected farms. The sentinel birds will be monitored for 35 days, with samples to be taken 6 times during that monitoring period. If all tests are negative for bird flu, only then can the DA declare the outbreak over.

Piñol estimates that the DA would spend P16 million for compensation for the culling alone, at P80 per head for 200,000 birds.

The government will also provide calamity assistance, and on top of that, P25,000 for each farmer. No estimates have been given yet on how many farmers are affected, but Piñol gave assurances that the Duterte administration would provide financial aid and livelihood programs.

“The farmers will be getting P25,000. P5,000 is a grant… P20,000 will be a no-collateral, no-interest loan payable within two years,” the agriculture chief said. “I’m a farmer and I know how hard it would be na ang farmer walang kikitain (that a farmer would not earn) for the next 4 to 5 months.” – 

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