VIDEO – About 50 Border Guard officers have been maintaining a "sterile zone" near the southern kibbutzim where fowl apparently infected with bird flu was discovered.
The teams were stationed around the kibbutzim of Ein Hashlosha, Holit, Nirim and Nir Yitzhak. Tens of thousands of birds are being exterminated Saturday in Ein Hashlosha and Holit by inserting poison into their drinking water.
Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha (Video: Reuters)
Tests conducted Friday revealed that the four henhouse workers hospitalized for fear they contracted the bird flu virus revealed that they were not infected with the disease.
The Health Ministry and Agriculture Ministry have asked the police to remove curious observers from around the infected kibbutzim and to prevent the transportation of fowl from the henhouses that were put under closure.
The Border Guard officers have been thoroughly briefed on the dangers of the disease, and may be instructed to wear protective suits and masks if needed.
Commander Idan Zamir, deputy commander of the Border Guard's rural unit, told Ynet that his officers have already managed to prevent a truck driver from arriving at one of the kibbutzim in order to load poultry for marketing.
"He said he had honestly not heard about what happened. If he had succeeded in removing fowl from the henhouses, the picture would have been completely different because he would have reached the distributing point within 10 minutes," the commander said.
There were no other unusual incidents as of yet.
According to Zamir, "we briefed the officers and provided them with all the relevant important details so that they would leave for the mission in good spirits and would not get hurt. We have prepared for a three-day operation, after which we will assess the situation and stay if needed. We are not taking part in the poultry extermination, which is being performed by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture."
The Ministry of Agriculture has placed severe restrictions on the areas of Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, Nirim, Kissufim and Holit in the south, as well as on Moshav Sde Moshe and kibbutz Nachshon, following the suspected outbreak of the bird flu virus.
Signs were put up at the entrances to the kibbutzim, reading: "Danger – infectious poultry disease. Area is under closure, no entrance." Agriculture Ministry workers are preventing the transportation of fowl, vehicles and human beings who have been in the infected henhouses.
The European commissioner has banned imports of live birds and meat from Israel, following the outbreak of the lethal strain of bird flu. The Ministry of Agriculture's Veterinary Services have halted exports of unprocessed chicken products from Israel to countries abroad, in accordance with international agreements over the issue. The ministry turned to Holland and asked that 4 million bird vaccines will be flown to Israel.
Kibbutz Nachshon (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
The Health Ministry tried to calm Israelis down on Friday, saying that Israeli residents are not in danger of contracting the disease.
Dr. Boaz Lev, assistant director-general of the Ministry of Health, and an expert on contagious diseases, told Ynet: "We are certainly ready. We have a respectable stockpile of medicines. Vaccination for the disease still does not exist, but we equipped ourselves with Tamiflu. In May, we will cover 16 percent of the complete population, and our final aim is to be able to treat an outbreak in which 25 percent of the population becomes infected. But of course, we are talking about a disease which is not here."
Dr. Lev noted that "there are no known cases in the world of someone becoming infected with bird flu because he ate an egg or chicken. There is no problem with meat products and eggs sold through the marketing authorities. To be meticulous, for those truly anxious, they can make due with heating, because the virus is destroyed in the heat in a number of minutes."
The Ministry of Agriculture held a press conference Friday noon in which it reported the virus has yet to be positively identified. Shimon Pokemonski, the ministry's chief veterinarian, said that while the virus has not been isolated so far, tests indicate it is highly likely it is of the H5N1 type.
Pokemonski said that conclusive results will be available in the next few days.
Vered Luvitch, Meital Yasur-Beit Or and Itay Gal contributed to the report