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Bennett holds security meeting on bird flu outbreak as disease continues to spread

PM consults with National Security Council on disease that’s ravaging wild and domestic birds in north, delivering what minister calls ‘worst blow to wildlife in Israel’s history’

The carcass of a crane, infected by avian flu, at the Hula Valley Nature Reserve in northern Israel, on December 23, 2021. (Shlomit Shavit, Israel Nature and Parks Authority)
The carcass of a crane, infected by avian flu, at the Hula Valley Nature Reserve in northern Israel, on December 23, 2021. (Shlomit Shavit, Israel Nature and Parks Authority)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with security officials on Monday to discuss an epidemic of bird flu that has killed vast numbers of wild and domestic fowl in Israel in recent days.

Bennett held talks Monday with security advisers, the National Security Council, and other professionals, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

Bennett received updates on the disease outbreak in northern Israel, which is centered in the Hula Valley and the community of Margaliot in the upper Galilee.

The Agriculture Ministry is leading efforts to cope with the crisis, with help from the Health Ministry and Environmental Protection Ministry.

The Agriculture Ministry is culling hundreds of thousands of birds, in an attempt to stem the spread of the disease in animals and “prevent the infection of the human population,” the statement said.

There was no indication that the disease had infected any humans, and anyone who had come in contact with it was “receiving preventative treatment.”

Crane carcasses litter the lake at the Hula Lake Reserve in northern Israel on December 26, 2021, following an outbreak of bird flu. (Guy Eilon/ Israel Nature and Parks Authority)

The Agriculture Ministry said Monday that the avian flu had been detected in three more farming communities in Israel — Ein Hahoresh, Bar’am, and Givat Ze’ev.

The newly detected hotspots had been isolated and other farms in their area were being monitored.

Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg called the outbreak “the worst blow to wildlife in the country’s history.”

On Sunday, responders counted some 5,000 dead cranes at the Hula Lake Reserve in northern Israel. The lake is the main gathering point for tens of thousands of wild birds that migrate through Israel twice yearly.

Farmers have also been forced to kill more than half a million chickens and turkeys. The mass culling is expected to cause a shortage of some 14 million eggs, out of the 200 million eggs Israelis consume each month.

Feeding has continued since the outbreak of the H5N1 virus at the lake, and in chicken sheds at Moshav Margaliot on the Lebanese border, to try to keep the cranes from flying elsewhere and taking the virus with them.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority believes that the disease spread from Moshav Margaliot via a truck driver, who delivered food to the chicken coops there and then brought food to the Hula Reserve. A spokeswoman said there had never been such an avian flu outbreak among wild birds.

The Agriculture Ministry has said that the farmers on the moshav failed to report the outbreak in real time, allowing it to spread like wildfire.

The Hula Reserve will remain closed to the public until January 1.

Members of the public are advised to cook eggs and poultry meat thoroughly before eating, to avoid contact with wild birds and their excrement, and to call the Parks Authority at *3639 if they see any signs of sick or dead birds.

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