Philippine leader feasts on chicken to allay bird flu scare

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ate grilled chicken, duck and eggs with other officials on Monday to help allay fears caused by the country's first large outbreak of avian flu.

Accompanied by his health and agriculture secretaries and other officials, Duterte traveled to northern Pampanga province and feasted with his bare hands on the poultry, spread on banana leaves in a traditional feast in front of journalists and TV cameras.

"If it's really your time, it doesn't matter what you eat," Duterte told the audience in jest.

Authorities killed more than 600,000 chickens, ducks, quails, pigeons and game fowls at the height of the outbreak this month in poultry farms in Pampanga and Nueva Ecija provinces, causing a drop in prices and consumption along with misery for farm owners and workers.

"I assure the public that the poultry products in Pampanga and Nueva Ecija are safe for consumption," Duterte said. He announced financial aid and loans to help affected businesses and workers recover.

Duterte thanked more than 300 soldiers and policemen who helped contain the outbreak.

Philippine agricultural officials said tests by an Australian laboratory showed the avian flu strain in Pampanga's hard-hit town of San Luis was H5N6, a type that was discovered in China in 2005 and can be transmitted to humans.

The rate of past transmissions to humans, however, was very low, they said. More than 40 people were suspected of having been infected because of flu-like symptoms, but all tested negative for the virus, Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial said.

Health officials, however, will continue surveillance in affected towns until early next month, she said.

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