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Lives take priority, says China

Willy Wo-Lap Lam, CNN Senior China Analyst

Hu, shown in Gabon, has been touring Africa.
Hu, shown in Gabon, has been touring Africa.

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(CNN) -- China's top leadership has given orders that protecting people's lives must be the top priority in fighting the bird flu outbreak affecting large parts of the world's most populous nation.

At least one third of China's provinces and directly administered cities have reported confirmed or suspected cases of the disease.

State media on Monday quoted instructions given by President Hu Jintao, who is currently touring Africa, that "top priority must be given to the people's lives and health."

Hu added that health and other departments must "use a thousand ways to prevent the (avian) epidemic from affecting human beings."

The president was quoted as saying that the Communist Party and government authorities were confident the epidemic could be contained and the health problem would be solved in good time.

In high-level meetings on avian flu convened by the State Council, or cabinet, Premier Wen Jiabao has ordered that as much attention and resources be earmarked for fighting the epidemic as those given to combating SARS last year.

The official Xinhua News Agency reported Monday that to ensure poultry farm owners were willing to destroy influenza-hit chickens, ducks and geese, the central government would make adequate compensation.

As well, free vaccine for healthy poultry would be given out by local administrations.

State-run media has reported that the flu outbreak in Guangdong and Hebei Provinces is "under control" after poultry within three kilometers of affected farms was destroyed.

And Chinese authorities are pulling out all stops to ensure that Beijing, which was hard-hit by SARS last year, is spared.

Beijing newspapers report that extra staff have been deployed on highways, airports and rail stations to prevent poultry from infected regions from reaching the capital.

Health departments have also asked residents to call newly established hotlines to report suspected cases of avian flu.

The authorities have denied reports in Hong Kong newspapers that a Shanghai resident has come down with a suspected case of bird flu.

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