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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 April 2006, 14:48 GMT 15:48 UK
Bird flu restrictions to be ended
Jack McConnell
The work of vets and officials was praised by Mr McConnell
The bird flu restrictions put in place after the discovery of a dead swan at Cellardyke in Fife are to be lifted.

First Minister Jack McConnell told the Scottish Parliament that the immediate 3km (1.9 miles) protection zone would be removed on Saturday.

This will apply to the movement of poultry products in the area, while restrictions on live poultry and other captive birds will remain until May.

The wider 10km (6.2 miles) surveillance zone is also set to be lifted on 1 May.

This move is conditional on the completion of a programme of veterinary inspections, with negative results, of all premises with poultry in the Wild Bird Surveillance Zone.

Calm reaction

The Scottish Executive also intends that the Wild Bird Risk Area - east of the M90/A90 stretching from the Forth Bridge to Stonehaven - will lapse on 1 May, subject to a veterinary risk assessment.

The restrictions on the movement of birds will also end on this date.

Mr McConnell praised the work of vets and other officials who, he said, reacted quickly and effectively to what could have been a serious outbreak.

He said people had responded "calmly and reasonably".

"I think we all know the damage that can be done when people panic," said Mr McConnell.

'Strong signal'

The first minister said the Scottish ministerial group on civil contingencies would meet soon in a bid to learn lessons from the incident in Fife.

He also stressed that it was necessary to "send out a very strong signal that people should still come to Scotland" because "bird flu is not a human disease".

Meanwhile, Professor Hugh Pennington - one of the country's leading microbiologists - has criticised the time it took to realise that bird flu had reached Britain for the first time.

Whooper swans
The discovery of a dead swan in Fife prompted restrictions

He told BBC News the time taken to confirm that the swan found in Fife last month had the H5N1 strain was "longer than it needed to be".

It took eight days - after the bird was first reported on a beach at Cellardyke on 29 March - before tests confirmed that the animal had the disease.

But Prof Pennington, who is president of the Society for General Microbiology, said three days would have been "more acceptable".

He also pointed out that a day passed after the dead swan was reported before experts tested the bird, although Prof Pennington said any future response would probably be quicker.

The H5N1 virus, which causes bird flu, does not pose a large-scale threat to humans, as it cannot pass easily from one person to another.

Experts, however, fear the virus could mutate at some point in the future, and in its new form trigger a flu pandemic, potentially putting millions of human lives at risk.

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