A senior Ukrainian official on Tuesday defended President Viktor Yushchenko's decision to declare a state of emergency after a bird flu outbreak on the Crimean peninsula, rejecting lawmakers' questions that the move was excessive. Yushchenko put three Crimean regions under an indefinite state of emergency on Saturday after this ex-Soviet republic recorded its first case of type H5 bird flu.
"Today it is better to do much more than necessary than tomorrow to have this problem throughout the whole of Ukrainian territory," Emergency Situations Minister Viktor Baloga said during an emergency parliamentary session.
It was the first time since the 1991 Soviet collapse that a state of emergency had been enacted in Ukraine, Baloga said. Under Ukrainian law, states of emergency are allowed when there is a "threat to the population's life and health."
Baloga defended the government's response as "justified," even as lawmakers grumbled that when bird flu appeared in neighboring Russia, a state of emergency was not declared. They also complained that Yushchenko didn't specify when the emergency state would end. On Monday, Yushchenko suggested it would last two weeks.
Under the state of emergency, six villages near Sivash Lake, a marshy area that is frequented by migratory birds, were put under a quarantine. Movement was restricted, and a mandatory cull of all domestic fowl launched.
The Emergency Situations Ministry said Tuesday that the threat appears to have been contained, with no cases of bird flu appearing in any other Crimean region.
As of Tuesday, 22,318 birds had been seized from village courtyards for destruction as part of the cull, emergency officials said. Baloga said the state of emergency "allowed us to fulfill the tough points of the president's order ... to localize bird flu."
Meanwhile, Ukraine awaited the results of tests from laboratories in Britain and Russia to determine whether the disease was the deadly H5N1 strain, which is being monitored for fear it could mutate into a form that is easily transferable among humans, Baloga said. Results are expected by Thursday.
At least 68 people have died from the H5N1 bird flu virus since it emerged in Asia in 2003, and the deadly strain has been recorded in birds in Romania, Turkey, Croatia and Russia.
Yushchenko visited the affected region on Monday and promised the government would compensate residents for their losses. He also announced a massive flu inoculation program that would target more than 60,000 people. The Emergency Situations Ministry said Tuesday that no cases of human infection have been recorded in Ukraine, reports the AP. I.L.