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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 January, 2004, 15:20 GMT
Press jitters over bird flu outbreak
Thai livestock official sprays empty poultry cages
Governments have been criticized for their response to the outbreak

Newspapers across South East Asia are nervous about their governments' ability to cope with the avian influenza outbreak affecting large parts of the region.

The Indonesian and Thai governments have sparked particular concern about their handling of the virus, and are even being accused of covering up the crisis.

In Indonesia, the daily Waspada accuses the government of failing to take serious measures against the outbreak.

"While other countries have been working hard extra hard to fight against bird flu," it says, "the Indonesian government seems to be taking everything easy."

"Cover-up"

While Waspada warns the government not to attempt to disguise the seriousness of the situation, Pikiran Rakyat says it may already have done so.

Infected people could have been spared their plight if the government had told the truth
The Nation

"It has been rumoured that the government has long known that bird flu has existed in Indonesia, " the paper says, "but has been trying to cover it up while continuing to find a vaccine."

The purpose, it speculates, may have been to save chicken breeders from bankruptcy.

The paper Riau Pos is more concerned about the economic effects of any countermeasures.

"As bird flu has spread to several ASEAN countries, it needs a tactical solution so that it will not disturb regional trade."

"Incompetence"

Indonesian concern about a possible government cover-up follows similar allegations in Thailand.

Bangkok's The Nation accuses the government of a "conspiracy of lies" and "stark incompetence" over the outbreak, which the paper says probably hit Thailand as early as November 2003.

"Now everybody knows to what lengths Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, his ministers and spin doctors were willing to go to keep the public in the dark about the bird-flu epidemic," the paper fumes.

It looks as though the Thai government still has not learnt from the Sars disaster
Nanyang Siang Pau

It also believes the government's failure to come clean has hampered efforts to combat the outbreak, and may have led to unnecessary deaths.

"Infected people could have been spared their plight if the government had told the truth and educated farm workers on how to protect themselves."

Risk

Concern over Bangkok's response to the bird flu outbreak has spread to neighbouring Malaysia, even though no case have been registered there so far.

The country's Chinese-language Nanyang Siang Pau says Thailand's attempt to cover up the epidemic could lead to more areas being infected by the flu.

"It looks as though the Thai government still has not learnt from the atypical pneumonia [Sars] disaster," it complains, but also criticises the Malaysian authorities.

"By covering up the potential bird flu situation in Thailand, Malaysia has become a high-risk country."

Hong Kong's South China Morning Post is also worried about the extent of official openness about avian flu.

"As the bird flu outbreaks have shown, a greater international effort is needed to ensure governments act transparently and remain alert", it urges.

Meanwhile, in Vietnam, a news website reports that 18 people have died after catching avian flu. It says a total of 46 people had contracted it so far.

"Thus far 18 patients infected with avian influenza - 14 children and four adults - have died in Vietnam," the Vietnamnet internet publication says. "However, only six of them have been confirmed as dying of the H5N1 virus."

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.




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