Bird flu UK 2021: Defra ‘bird lockdown’ explained amid outbreaks of avian flu across the UK

From Monday 29 November, all captive birds in the UK will have to be kept indoors to stop the spread of bird flu

It is unknown how long the legal bird housing measures will last for (image: Shutterstock)

The UK is set to introduce a lockdown for birds after dozens of outbreaks of bird flu have been recorded in poultry and wild birds across the country.

Given everything we’ve been through at the hands of the Covid-19 pandemic, you might be concerned about whether this is yet another health threat for humans.

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However, the risk to our health is said to be low, and there is little risk of the virus being passed on to humans through cooked poultry.

So what do the new bird housing restrictions mean - and why do they matter?

Here’s what you need to know.

What is bird flu?

Bird flu is a form of the influenza virus - the same family of viruses which cause flu in humans.

These are totally different to coronaviruses - the family which Covid-19 belongs to.

Also known as avian influenza, it is so called because it tends to affect birds more than humans.

2021’s variant of the virus appears to be hitting the UK harder and earlier than it did last winter (image: Shutterstock)

The virus either has low pathogenicity - i.e. it isn’t too damaging to health - or high pathogenicity, whereby it can be fatal.

Birds infected with low pathogenicity flu tend to have minor breathing problems and might not produce as many eggs.

Meanwhile, those with highly pathogenic strains can display a whole host of symptoms.

These include: unresponsiveness, closed and excessively watery eyes, a swollen head and tremoring.

What does the UK-wide bird flu housing order mean?

The UK-wide housing measures mean all captive birds, whether they be commercially farmed chickens or pets, must be kept indoors.

It has been introduced because there have been at least 35 cases of highly pathogenic bird flu in wild birds across England, Scotland and Wales and at least 15 other cases in commercial and backyard flocks.

The legal measures are set to come into force on Monday 29 November, so that poultry keepers have time to adapt any indoor spaces and make sure they are sealed off.

The legal housing measures mean all chickens will have to be kept indoors, even if they’re free range (image: Shutterstock)

This is to ensure that there can be no contact between captive birds and wild birds which might be carrying the disease.

These housing restrictions have already been in place in Yorkshire this week due to a high concentration of cases in the area.

It is unclear how long they will be in place for.

Housing measures were enforced in the UK last winter when a previous outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza swept across the country.

But 2021’s variant of the virus appears to be hitting the UK harder and earlier than last winter’s version.

Why does bird flu matter?

Bird flu matters because it can damage the supply chains of some of the UK’s key foods, like chicken and eggs.

If the virus gets onto a farm, all the birds there would have to be culled in a bid to stop it from spreading.

On the biggest farms, this could mean tens of thousands of birds are killed and won’t make it onto the nation’s dinner plates.

By introducing strong biosecurity measures and the nationwide housing order, the likelihood of mass cullings and any threat to food supply are greatly reduced.

However, it does mean that British free range chicken and eggs on sale in supermarkets will not actually be from birds that have been able to roam freely outside.

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