Officials in eastern Hangzhou, China are boosting efforts to prevent the spread of H7N9, the deadly strain of bird flu that has already killed 22 people this year.
State media reports say live poultry markets in several major cities will be closed by local authorities and live poultry trading will be halted throughout the Zhejiang province starting Feb. 15. In Shanghai, which has seen at least eight cases and four deaths this year, the trading is due to stop on Friday for three months.
The government order takes effect Tuesday, just ahead of the Chinese New Year, when poultry sellers typically see big sales. Al Jazeera reports the move comes after three members of the same family in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province, contracted H7N9.
The protective measures come amid a spike in the number of cases. There have been 53 cases (and 12 deaths) in Zhejiang this year—about half of China’s total—compared to 144 (46 deaths) throughout 2013.
On Wednesday, the World Health Organization said the rise in cases this time of year wasn’t surprising, and could be the result of seasonal factors instead of a mutation in the virus. Neither WHO nor Chinese authorities say there is evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission.