Agriculture Minister Ze'ev Boim, who came under a barrage of criticism last week for his ministry's response to the avian flu, hit back Sunday, telling the cabinet Israel took action more quickly than other countries in the world faced with a flu outbreak. At the same time, Agricultural Ministry officials warned that the existence of the flu in Egypt, Gaza and Jordan could cause it to reappear in Israel as well. Prime Minister Office director-general Ilan Cohen told reporters before Sunday's cabinet meeting that Israel was particularly concerned about the situation in Gaza, where there are an estimated two million fowl. Cohen said that if the Palestinians don't compensate the farmers than they may not kill the fowl, and the flu might spread. Cohen said that Israel has provided the Palestinians with know-how and equipment to combat the flu, including poison that can kill the infected poultry. The World Bank announced over the weekend it was going to funnel $2 million to the Palestinians to pay compensation to chicken farmers. Boim, briefing the cabinet on how Israel combated the flu, said that in nine days some 1.2 million poultry from 53 chicken farms in 14 different communities were destroyed and buried in nine days. By comparison he said that it took 23 days alone to destroy and bury the poultry at one site in Japan. And when the flu reappeared at another site, it took the Japanese 31 days to destroy and bury the birds. In Canada, he said, the flu led to the destruction of 13 million birds over a seven-month period, and in South Korea five million fowl were destroyed and buried in three and a half months. In Egypt, he said, the flu spread across the country before the government even admitted that it had a problem. Boim informed the cabinet that poultry farmers would receive 50% of their financial compensation this week, and that he had ordered a report on direct and collateral damage from the bird flu. Boim said that since the first signs of the flu were detected on March 16, there have been three distinct waves. The first wave hit over the weekend of March 16-17, when infected birds were found at the Holit, Ein Hashlosha, and Nachshon kibbutzim and at Moshav Sde Moshe. A total of 118,000 infected birds were destroyed at these locations. An additional 596,000 uninfected fowl were culled within a three-kilometer radius at Nirim, Kissufim, Sufa, Gat, Harel, Bekoa, and Zalfon. The second wave was detected at the kibbutzim of Nir Oz and Amioz on March 19-20, where 180,000 infected birds were destroyed. An additional 290,000 birds were destroyed within a three-kilometer radius. And the final wave hit on March 21, when 16,000 infected birds were destroyed at Bka'aot. Boim said the destroying and burying of the fowl was carried out by the Eshkol, Lachish, and Jordan Valley regional councils, with the help of the Defense Ministry. An agricultural quarantine around the communities will be enforced by the Israel Police and the Border Police to ensure that poultry from the infected areas will not be smuggled into other parts of the country. Two situation rooms have been set up, one at Kibbutz Beit Dagan and the second at the Eshkol Local Council, to monitor enforcement of the quarantine. Boim also presented the ministers with three future scenarios for a possible recurrence of the flu:
A "light" outbreak that would hit only two sites in one region, which would be dealt with by regional Agriculture Ministry representatives and the relevant local authorities.
A "moderate" outbreak, which would consist of four outbreaks of the flu in more than one local council. The Agricultural Ministry would coordinate the efforts to contain the flu, and would set up a "command center" in each of the infected regions that would, along with local authorities, deal with the outbreak of the flu.
A "serious" outbreak that would spread across more than four different regions. In this case, the logistics for dealing with the flu would be coordinated by the Defense Ministry.