A customer looks at chicken at a discount store in Busan, Wednesday. As the outbreak of bird flu has receded, the demand for chicken and duck products is rising. / Yonhap
By Park Si-soo
The outbreak of avian influenza, which rattled people for about two months, has apparently receded with no fresh incidents reported since May 13.
Seoul Metropolitan Government, where the last case was reported, confirmed Thursday that there have been no reports of suspicious deaths among poultry in the city since May 11.
``There have been no signs of another outbreak of the epidemic,'' said Kim Yoon-kyu, a Seoul city official in charge of local quarantine services. ``We have culled all questionable poultry in the capital so that there is no possibility of another case of bird flu.''
Still, city officials are still monitoring for a possible recurrence of the contagious disease around the clock.
``The government usually lifts an avian influenza warning unless a new outbreak is detected within four weeks,'' Kim said. ``We expect to lift the warning soon.''
The first outbreak occurred in mid April in North Jeolla Province. Despite the government's all-out efforts, it took less than one month to contaminate poultry in Seoul.
The authorities estimate about six million birds susceptible to the flu have been culled nationwide ― in Seoul alone, more than 16,000 were slaughtered to contain further spread of the disease virulent to both birds and humans.
Conveying poultry from an affected area to other regions is still strictly banned to prevent transmission of the disease.
Demand, Prices Rising
Consumers' appetite for chicken and other birds, once dubbed ``the meat of death,'' is returning, slowly but steadily.
Rising demand for chicken will outstrip supply in the wake of such massive culling, especially ahead of the high season for chicken soup and other dishes popular in the summer.
The supply of chicken fell more than 10 percent after the outbreak, and prices are rising at discount stores in line with growing demand. At a store in Incheon, chicken is now selling at about 3,800 won per 900 grams, up from 3,200 won at the end of March.
``When the flu was at its peak, almost no one was looking for chicken. But now we are seeing consumer demand rise again. Our sales have risen about 10-20 percent,'' a sales clerk at the store said.
South Gyeongsang Province reported Wednesday that consumption of poultry has increased notably. According to the local government, more than 560,000 chickens were consumed in May alone. In April, only 440,000 were sold at retail stores across the province.
Jeju Island resumed purchases of poultry from the mainland Wednesday, ending a two-month ban that took effect on April 4. The island has remained a bird flu free zone.