Bird flu expected in Finland in about two weeks
Landfill to be fenced off to keep seagulls away
Avian influenza is expected to reach Finland within a couple of weeks.
"Mallard ducks are spending the winter in North Germany and will come to Finland when the weather gets warmer", says Matti Aho of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. He said that when temperatures rise above the freezing point, the ducks will arrive, and will probably bring bird flu with them.
The government discussed preparations for bird flu at a meeting on Thursday. The topic of discussion was a ten-page report on a two-week exercise aimed at testing how well different officials can work together in an outbreak of bird flu.
In the scenario, hundreds of dead geese are found at a trailer park in a coastal area of West Finland. On the same evening, a poultry farm in the west of Finland reports a number of bird deaths, shortly after birds had been transported from the farm for slaughter.
In the exercise, all birds on the farm are destroyed, and a three-kilometre quarantine zone is set up around the farm; under the regulations, birds cannot be moved to or from poultry farms within the zone.
If there are many infected birds, and an epidemic is suspected, vaccination of domesticated birds might be considered.
At a press conference on Thursday, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said that Finns have good reason to feel calm. He recommended the use of common sense. He added that easy-to-understand recommendations and advice are under preparation on what to do when encountering dead birds.
The government is also concerned about the possibility of a mutation of the bird flu virus, which might spread among humans, causing a pandemic. The government is organising an exercise for such a scenario in April.
The largest landfill in the Helsinki area, at Ämmässuo in Espoo, is to be covered by a large mesh fence to keep seagulls away. It is estimated that up to about 10,000 seagulls visit the Ämmässuo landfill on a daily basis.
A key aim of the planned cage is to protect people working at the landfill against birds that might be infected by bird flu.
Officials at the Helsinki Metropolitan Area Council (YTV) emphasise that fears of bird flu are not the only reason for the move; seagulls are an annual problem at the dump. They can spread salmonella and cause other types of hygiene problems as well.
A cage suspended by poles and cables about 20 metres high is to be set up on top of the landfill. Plans are to put it up in April and May before the seagull migration.
A similar attempt at fencing out seagulls was made at a landfill in Kuopio some years ago. It was dismantled for animal welfare reasons; birds would sometimes get into the cage, and could not find their way out. Sometimes they would get tangled in the mesh of the net.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Finland considers changing bird flu vaccine (8.3.2996)
Bird flu moving faster than anticipated; contingency plans for dead birds among migrating flocks (2.3.2006)
Finnish government drawing up plans for bird flu pandemic (20.1.2006)
Bird flu scenario: Over 1.8 million Finns would catch virus if pandemic breaks out (13.1.2006)