Ary Hermawan and Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Denpasar
The Bali administration said it was annoyed by recent media reports of the bird flu virus on the island, which it said were creating excessive public anxiety that could damage the image of the resort island as it recovers from two deadly terrorist attacks.
The administration’s spokesperson, Anak Agung Bagus Netra, on Tuesday said Governor Dewa Beratha had ordered all information regarding bird flu be delivered only by the public relations department.
“We are talking about a new outbreak here. We can’t have (ill-informed) people speaking about it on behalf of the administration. This is about Bali’s image. These days any information can fly overseas in a second,” he told The Jakarta Post.
Bali is currently under the bird flu virus spotlight. The National Committee for Avian Influenza and Pandemic Preparedness and the Health Ministry have confirmed two deaths from the virus on the island in the past three weeks.
“There have been two confirmed bird flu deaths. The media, however, is reporting as though the virus has spread to all regencies,” said Netra.
A local media group reported that bird flu had claimed the life of a 42-year-old woman from Denpasar as its third victim on the island Saturday, but there has been no confirmation the woman was infected with the lethal virus.
The Sanglah Hospital has admitted nine people suspected of having the bird flu virus so far this year, including Sri Widiantari, the first confirmed victim from Jembrana regency, and Ayu Srinadhi, 28, the second confirmed victim from Tabanan regency.
Six of the suspected bird flu virus patients had been returned home after testing negative for the disease. Meanwhile, the status of the last suspected victim, Ni Ketut Sariasih, 42, from Tapak Gangsul village, Denpasar, remains unclear.
Netra blamed poor coordination for the mixed-up.
“Animal husbandry agencies and health agencies are sometimes at odds over the issue,” he said.
Bali Tourism Agency head Gde Nurjaya said the Bali Tourism Board had established a media center for bird flu — with information coming solely from the administration.
“We need a single voice on this matter,” he said.
The administration will hold a press conference Wednesday to clarify information on the province’s bird flu details, Netra said.
Farmers are questioning new poultry regulations issued by the administration in an effort to eradicate H5N1 from the province. Bali deputy governor Alit Kesuma Kelakan last Sunday hinted at the idea of culling all fowl on the island, without elaborating on compensation for farmers.
Meanwhile, Udayana University virologist Ngurah Mahardika suggested that tourist destinations such as Kuta, Sanur and Nusa Dua be free from fowl, following the rapid spread of bird flu virus on the island.
“This is a better move than simply taking chicken off menus,” Ngurah told the Post over the weekend.
Some hotels and restaurants in Bali had decided to drop chicken dishes from their menus. The public have been told to abandon backyard farming, while traditional markets have been asked to sell chicken meat only, not live poultry, he said.
Ngurah said the human-fowl population density in Bali, especially in Denpasar, made the region prone to a bird flu outbreak. Lagging precautionary measures, Ngurah said, could help the virus spread and develop more quickly, thereby increasing the threat of a pandemic on the island.
Head of the Bali Chapter of Indonesian Hotels and Restaurants Association Cok Oka Ardhana Sukawati agreed, saying his association had urged the Bali administration to remove live fowl from popular tourist areas.
The association is currently working with Karangasem regency in the eastern part of Bali to free the Candi Dasa tourist area from poultry farming. Candi Dasa is a quiet beach town around two hours from Kuta.
“We intend to clear all fowl from the Candi Dasa tourist area and make it a model for other tourist destinations. We hope other administrations will follow suit,” he said.
He added his party had yet to receive a response from the provincial administration on the request to clear fowl from the Kuta and Sanur tourist areas. [b]