SHANGHAI, Nov 23 (AP) -- China's largest city, Shanghai, will ban sales of canaries, parakeets and other pet birds as part of increasingly drastic measures aimed at preventing a wide-scale bird flu outbreak, a city official and government media said Wednesday.
The agriculture, forestry, veterinary and health bureaus were coordinating on setting an exact date for the ban to go into effect, an official from the market supervision department of Shanghai's bureau of industry and commerce said.
"We do have this plan as part of the anti-bird flu campaign, but we still need to hold talks, said the official, who declined to give his name as is typical among Chinese bureaucrats.
However, the official and local newspapers said the plan would most likely take effect from the beginning of next month.
The step follows China's announcement this week of its 20th outbreak of the H5N1 virus among poultry since late last month, along with one human fatality and one suspected death. With a human population of 20 million, Shanghai has yet to report any outbreaks, despite near-daily news of fresh cases from around the country.
Millions of chickens, geese and ducks have been destroyed around China to contain those outbreaks, and authorities are rushing to vaccinate billions of poultry against the virulent H5N1 strain of the virus.
Shanghai will still permit sales of live poultry, although markets selling such birds must close for one day each week to be disinfected.
According to newspapers, the ban on pet sales was spurred by troubles identifying the place of origin of such birds, some of which may have come from areas where bird flu has already spread, the Shanghai Daily newspaper reported.
Pet birds are also more difficult to vaccinate because of their small size and the unsanitary conditions in which they are stored, transported and sold, the paper said.
Keeping pet birds has long been a popular diversion among Chinese, although the market for such animals is largely unregulated.
Throughout Asia, the H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed at least 67 people since 2003, almost all of whom came into close contact with infected birds. Experts fear the virus could mutate into a form that can easily be passed from human to human, sparking a pandemic.