Trinidad and Tobago halted a shipment of feathers from China, citing concerns about bird flu in barring some imports of feathers that traditionally adorn costumes in annual carnival celebrations. It said there was no indication the feathers were contaminated.
Workers fumigated the 20 cartons of feathers at Port-of-Spain's seaport on Thursday, a day after government officials halted the single shipping container holding the feathers along with Chinese textiles.
"These are extra precautionary steps we are taking to ensure the health of our population," said Brent Bain, a spokesman for the Caribbean country's Agriculture Ministry. The shipping container was being held at the port until another vessel could return it to China, officials said.
No cases of the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus have been reported in the Americas, but officials are concerned because it has killed at least 67 people and millions of birds in Asia since 2003 and has spread to birds in some parts of Europe.
Most human cases have been linked to direct physical contact with sick birds. But experts warn the virus could mutate into a form that is easily passed between people and trigger a global pandemic. Trinidad's ban affects feather and poultry imports from countries that have confirmed outbreaks of bird flu, officials said.
The two-island country's annual carnival is one of the most colorful in the Caribbean, with dancers in feather-clad outfits parading to the beat of steel drum bands. Traditionally, most feathers for the handmade costumes have come from abroad, but carnival organizers said they now plan to explore using more local feathers. The costumes often take months to prepare.
"It will be hard on bandleaders, but we are innovative people and we will have to adjust," said Owen Hinds, president of the carnival bands association. Wholesale importer Gregory Aboud declined to give the value of the 20 cartons of feathers that he had sought to bring into the country, the AP reports.