BANGKOK: Thailand's Government on Tuesday declared 29 central and north-eastern provinces as bird flu disaster zone as part of measures to curb the epidemic, Government spokesman Surapong Suebwonglee said.

The caretaker Cabinet also approved the creation of ``chicken death squads'' responsible for terminating infected birds as well as all poultry within a 1-km radius of any future bird flu outbreak site.

Quoted by the Bangkok-based newspaper The Nation, Mr. Surapong said the declaration would make it easier for the Government to provide compensation to farmers whose birds must be killed.

Strict measures

Caretaker Agriculture Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan said the Government would carry out tests on chickens in an area of 5 km from a site of outbreak to check the spread of bird flu. Four new mobile laboratories will be set up across the northern and central provinces to conduct the tests.

The Government also issued strict measures for another 30 provinces, requiring vehicles and equipment to be disinfected before moving between farms.

Thailand has reported two human fatalities from bird flu this year, both in northern provinces.

Meanwhile, a report from Beijing said the Chinese Ministry of Health on Tuesday confirmed that the country's first human case of H5N1 bird flu occurred in November 2003.

A letter published by eight Chinese scientists on June 22 in the New England Journal of Medicine said the bird flu virus was isolated in a 24-year-old man who died in Beijing in 2003.

The man became ill with pneumonia and respiratory disease on November 2003 and died four days after being hospitalised. Since China was then in the aftershock of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), the case was suspected of a SARS case, but tests were negative for SARS.

The Ministry confirmed this human case of bird flu by parallel laboratory tests, which were carried out in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO). Globally, 233 persons had been confirmed to have contracted bird flu and 135 of them had died by August 7, according to figures from the WHO. Xinhua