SHANGHAI — Malls across this city of 20 million were buzzing with shoppers on Friday afternoon, indicating that so far consumer confidence has not been shaken by an outbreak of a rare strain of bird flu that has claimed six lives over the past week.
Fourteen people have been infected with the H7N9 avian flu virus since Sunday, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported. Six cases were in Shanghai while others who tested positive for the virus were in neighboring Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Anhui provinces. There is no evidence so far of human-to-human transmission.
Shanghai authorities ordered the slaughter of thousands of birds for sale in markets in the city on Friday after finding pigeons that tested positive for the disease. Agricultural markets in the city have also been closed, Xinhua reported.
The United States Consulate in Shanghai is “monitoring the situation very closely,” spokeswoman Wylita Bell said. “We are working very closely with our counterparts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Beijing and Shanghai municipal governments.”
Salespeople working at the Juicy Couture and Armani Exchange stores located in Grand Gateway 66, a mall located in Xuhui District, said that business had been normal. Similarly, employees in Christian Dior, Céline and Prada boutiques in Plaza 66, a mall in central Shanghai, said they had not noticed any decrease in shoppers.
A small but noticeable number of residents could be seen wearing face masks on subways and other public places.
“I don’t care that much,” Yorking Wang, a 20-year-old university student shopping near Grand Gateway 66, said. “It seems very far away from me. I won’t buy chicken or pork, but I will still go to shopping malls.”
Thousands of dead pigs were found in rivers around Shanghai last month. Authorities have said there is no evidence that the deaths are connected with the avian flu outbreak.
Medical experts say the H7N9 virus does not yet appear to be serious. “The speed of the spreading of the virus is not that rapid,” Chen Lei, a physician at Parkway Health medical center in Shanghai, said. “But you need to be careful because you never know. Any flu virus can mutate very quickly and can become very vicious. But that has not happened at this point.”
Still, in a region accustomed to epidemics, a number of precautions are being taken. Vietnam has banned Chinese poultry imports, while airports in Japan and Hong Kong are warning passengers to seek medical help if they have flulike symptoms.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, erupted in China in 2003, infecting thousands and resulting in billions of dollars in economic losses across Asia. Tourism, entertainment and other service-related industries were the hardest hit. In April 2003, retail sales in Hong Kong dropped 15.2 percent from the previous year, according to research from the University of Hong Kong.
Markets are reacting to the H7N9 outbreak. The STOXX Europe 600 Travel and Leisure index fell up to 3.72 percent on Friday, indicating investor fears that a possible pandemic could impact the sector. Hong Kong stocks closed 2.73 percent lower on Friday.