The World Health Organisation (WHO) has asked China to remain "vigilant" and employ emergency measures to prevent the spread of bird flu as almost of half of the mainland has already been affected by the virus. The Chinese officials accepted the surge of the H7N9 virus, or avian influenza A, and said that it is still "controllable".
According to the National Health and Family Planning Commission, bird flu had claimed 87 lives and its presence was reported in 16 provinces and municipalities by the month of February. The agency warned the infection could spread further if the situation is not controlled.
The reports said the outbreak had killed 79 people out of the 192 reported cases in January. Since 2013, this is the worst surge of the virus in China.
The commission urged the local authorities to give their "utmost effort" to check the spread of bird flu and prevent more deaths. Poultry markets in some provinces in eastern, southern, and south-western China have been totally shut down.
The South China Morning Post quoted an anonymous vegetable vendor as saying: "It [the enforcement] is really strict this year. Vendors secretly sold live chickens when there was a similar ban before, but not this time."
WHO said the virus is capable of causing severe diseases in poultry and necessitates close scrutiny. It added that the virus is "highly pathogenic" among birds but said there is no confirmation on human-to-human infection. But, the experts are quite worried that the virus might easily mutate and quickly spread among humans.
"This is the first time these changes have been detected. These are the only two cases in Guangdong province, China. So far, there have been no reports if similar changes have occurred elsewhere. It is a reminder that we have to keep looking closely," WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier told Reuters.