LESLEY GRIFFITHS, Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd:

Avian influenza (AI) was first confirmed in Great Britain on 26th October 2021. On 3rd November, I announced an all-Wales Avian Influenza Prevention Zone to be implemented in response to the increasing risk of avian influenza to our poultry industry in Wales.

This made it a legal requirement for all bird keepers to follow strict biosecurity measures to help protect their birds.

On 29th November 2021, as the risk to poultry continued to rise, I extended this declaration and it became mandatory for all keepers to house their birds or otherwise keep them separate from wild birds.

These measures have been coordinated with Defra and the Devolved Governments and apply across Great Britain.

As of 13:00 on the 8th December 2021, highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 has been confirmed in poultry or other captive birds at 36 premises in GB, with over 276 findings in wild birds in 80 separate locations. This is now the largest ever UK outbreak of AI, and there is no immediate sign of the situation improving.

To date, the Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales has confirmed three separate cases of AI in domestic poultry across Wales. These are:

near Chirk, Wrexham, Wales on November 1st
near Gaerwen, Isle of Anglesey, Wales on November 25th
near Crickhowell, Powys, Wales on December 3rd

Since introducing the Prevention Zone and mandatory housing, the outbreaks have continued to occur across Great Britain in kept (domestic) birds and the virus continues to be found in some wild birds submitted for disease surveillance This is to be expected, in light of the risk level and in that keepers are being more vigilant and alert for signs of disease.

However, as we continue to monitor these increased findings, I am reviewing our emergency disease arrangements to ensure we are delivering an effective and efficient response.

I am grateful to industry and the veterinary profession for their continued efforts in meeting our requirements, as we all have a responsibility in addressing this disease threat. Whilst I continue to ask keepers across Wales to take all steps possible to prevent the spread of disease, I have reviewed our ability to respond within Government against competing pressures, and I have decided to stand up a “lite” format Emergency Coordination Centre for Wales (ECCW).

Responding to disease requires a co-ordinated effort between ourselves in Government combined with operational partners, industry and stakeholders. These three domestic cases in Wales have been dealt with immediately and effectively, with regulated disease control measures being implemented to good effect. However, these steps have required great resource and have significant implications for us all. As we do not know how long AI will continue to be at its current risk level, we need to ensure we can sustain the response we have delivered to date.

The ECCW “lite” will ensure my officials can continue to provide a coordinated and effective response to the disease threat throughout this outbreak. It will allow them the ability to better manage and prioritise resources, share responsibilities and communicate with all concerned. As we are all aware, disease situations develop and change frequently and having the ECCW “lite” established will allow us to ensure we can react to the changing circumstances promptly and continue to provide an appropriate and proportionate disease response.

The Welsh Government is doing all it can to respond to this situation. I continue to request all keepers meet their obligations, to maintain the highest standards of biosecurity, house their birds and be vigilant for signs of disease. I remind keepers who have more than 50 birds to register their flock. Also, I would strongly recommend all keepers to register their birds regardless of numbers. I would be grateful if Members could share with their constituents information released on Welsh Government social media channels or via the website (https://gov.wales/avian-influenza) on how to protect birds from Avian Influenza. I am confident that together we have the best chance of dealing with this epidemic and protecting our national flock.