Live poultry traders in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou sighed in despair as business was halted Friday at the height of the Lunar New Year sales period due to the resurgent bird flu epidemic.
Hangzhou, capital city of Zhejiang Province, announced Thursday that live poultry trading in its main urban areas would be halted on Friday to help contain H7N9 bird flu infections.
"So many live chickens in cages. How should I deal with them?" said Li Xuemin, a live poultry vendor in the Songmuchang open fair in Hangzhou.
Li smoked with a glum look on his face while sitting next to his live chickens, about 40 in total, which were spreading their wings in their cages.
Li, who has been in the business for around two decades, complained about "entering the wrong business for half a lifetime," as he had already experienced several rounds of market shutdowns due to bird flu infections.
As of Friday, Zhejiang has reported 37 H7N9 cases, the most among all regions nationwide. It also reported China's first confirmed human-to-human transmission last November.
In a circular, city authorities ordered live poultry markets in six districts to be disinfected and launched widespread monitoring over domestic fowl and birds in poultry farms, migratory bird habitats, and parks. The city's live poultry markets and stalls were closed on Friday.
Early Friday morning, Li and his peers in the market began disinfection of their stalls and thought of ways to get rid of their live chickens and ducks.
"We have to send some to friends and relatives. As for the remaining, we might slaughter and freeze them in the refrigerator," said Li. He added that he had decided to return to his hometown for Spring Festival early, but regretted missing out on the money-making opportunity.
The period leading up to the Spring Festival, the Chinese Lunar New Year, is traditionally the annual peak season for live poultry sales. The holiday falls on Jan. 31 this year and is the most important occasion for family reunions in China.
Hangzhou's two largest live poultry markets, Gouzhuang and Dajiang, closed on Wednesday.
Before its closure, live poultry trade in the Gouzhuang market totaled over 100,000 birds per day, with more than 70,000 chickens and 30,000 ducks, pigeons and geese sold daily, and hundreds of fully loaded trucks pulling in and out the market.
Now the market is quiet, with only sterilized empty cages and signs that said, "Live poultry processing forbidden, offenders fined with suspension of business."
Jiaxing Lihua Livestock Co. Ltd., a leading poultry enterprise in Zhejiang, suffered a massive direct loss of over 22 million yuan (about 3.63 million U.S. dollars) in 2013.