Clad in white overalls, workers started culling ducks and geese on the island in the Sukhna Lake on Thursday afternoon after a second report from Bhopal-based National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases confirmed the presence of H5N1 avian flu virus in one of the birds which died last week.
The report from NISHAD said, “On December 15, samples of dead ducks of Sukhna Lake were received by NISHAD from RDDL, Jalandhar. One dead duck was found positive for AIV H5N1 by real time RT-PCR, RT-PCR and virus isolution.”
The administration also received a communication from the Union Ministry of Agriculture, asking it to take necessary action to control and contain the disease.
In the morning, V P Singh, who is holding the charge of deputy commissioner, called a meeting of officials to plan preventive measures. It was attended by the director of animal husbandry, director of health services, conservator of forests, chief wildlife warden and other senior officials.
“A decision to cull the birds was taken. Birds in a radius of one kilometre of the epicentre will be culled,” said Dr Lovelesh Kant Gupta, joint director of animal husbandry.
The island in the middle of the lake, where the birds were confined on Wednesday, was regarded as the epicentre. The operation ended late in the night.
The culling was done by a team of about 30 men from various departments. After a health check-up at the Government Multi-speciality Hospital in Sector 16, they were briefed about the culling operation and then sent to the lake.
They were told that the prescribed method of culling was a “quick twisting of neck, taking care that the process is humane”.
When the team reached the island, the birds scattered away. Some of the men chased them and beat them with batons, said an eyewitness.
After the culling, the dead birds were put in a pit and set on fire. The pit was then filled with earth and antiseptic solutions sprayed on the spot. Dr Gupta said a 100-metre area around the pit would remain a restricted area for the next six months.
Officials appeared clueless about the source of the infection. “Migratory birds can be the source of infection, but nothing much can be done to check their movement. All we can do now is to take preventive actions to stop the spread of infection,” said Santosh Kumar, conservator of forests and chief wildlife officer.
Dr Gupta said they had sent as many as 125 samples of migratory birds, none of which tested positive. Also, not a single migratory bird had died. The ducks and geese which have died in the last one week were all domesticated birds.
Flocks of migratory birds could be seen on the lake even when the culling was under way.
Entry of people to the lake, which is a popular tourist spot and also a favourite of morning walkers, was stopped early in the morning, operation of boats was suspended and eateries and souvenir shops shut.
Kavita Singh, managing director of CITCO which looks after the lake, said, “The lake is out of bounds till further orders.”
Sub-Inspector Mini Bhardwaj, in charge of the police post at the lake, said, “We were put on alert at night. We were asked to report at the lake at 3 am to stop the walkers from entering the lake area.’’
Roads leading to the lake were barricaded to stop the entry of vehicles. The road leading to the nearby golf course was also sealed, but golfers were allowed after they showed their membership cards.
Policemen on duty on the lake wore face masks and gloves. Some of them patrolled the lake bank in golf carts. However, despite all the strictness, some visitors could be seen at the regulator end of the lake.