Indonesia will start clearing residential areas of chickens and ducks as part of its fight against bird flu, government officials said Friday, acknowledging it would be a monumental and difficult task.
"It's a measure we have to take to be free from bird flu," Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari said following a government meeting on the H5N1 virus that has killed 55 people across Indonesia, the most in the world.
"It's urgent and must be done as soon as possible."
No timeframe was given for the plan, which will almost certainly face resistance in a nation that has hundreds of millions of backyard birds, many of them in towns and cities.
Agriculture Minister Anton Apriyantono said the measure would be implemented systematically.
"We will start by demanding that poultry be kept in cages in urban areas," he said. "If chickens are found walking free, then officials have the right to seize them."
The H5N1 virus has killed 151 people worldwide since ravaging poultry stocks across Asia in 2003, the World Health Organization says, with Indonesia accounting for more than a third of the human deaths.
Most of those killed have been infected by domestic fowl, but WHO fears the virus could mutate into a form that easily spreads among humans, sparking a pandemic with the potential to kill millions.
Indonesia has attracted international criticism for not doing enough to stamp out the virus in its vast poultry stocks, and was told in August it would have to boost its own spending before receiving more foreign help.
David Nabarro, the United Nations' coordinator for avian and pandemic influenza, said in the weeks that followed that significant progress had been made, with the government working hard to warn citizens of the dangers posed by the virus.
He also said that, while much work still needed to be done, the government had increased vaccinations, surveillance and culling of infected birds.
The National Bird Flu Commission said Friday the number of provinces where the virus is endemic had been reduced from 30 to 16 over the past six months, but that the number of deaths is still expected to rise.
Aburizal Bakrie, welfare minister and commission chairman, said the government would spend an additional 100 billion rupiah (US$11 million, â‚¬8.7 million) to more than double the number of hospitals offering bird flu treatment facilities to 100 nationwide.