CAIRO (AFP) – Egypt ordered the immediate cull of all pigs in the country on Wednesday as the Middle East grappled with deadly swine flu following Israel's confirmation of two more suspected cases.
"It has been ordered to immediately begin the slaughter of all herds of pigs in Egypt," Health Minister Hatem al-Gabali told reporters after a meeting with President Hosni Mubarak.
The move came despite efforts by the executive arm of the European Union to reassure consumers that the pig-farming industry posed no danger and that the new virus strain was one that could only be caught from other humans.
Jewish and Muslim prohibitions on the consumption of pork mean that the Middle East has a far smaller pig-farming industry than Europe or the Americas.
But the Egyptian agriculture ministry says the country still has an estimated 250,000 pigs, reared by members of the Coptic Christian minority.
Pig rearers in Cairo's slums were outraged by the government's decision.
"Our pigs are healthy. They are our capital and they have no diseases," said Adel Ishak, a Christian rubbish collector from Manshiet Nasser, northeast of Cairo.
A pig abattoir in Egypt's second city Alexandria had already been shut down before the cull order.
In Israel, health officials said two people had been placed in quarantine with swine flu symptoms, a day after two nationals were confirmed to have contracted the virus.
A 34-year-old man who recently returned from Mexico was quarantined in a Tel Aviv hospital with symptoms of the flu, the health ministry said in a statement.
A nine-year-old boy was rushed to hospital on Tuesday several days after entering the country on the same flight from New York that carried a man who has since been diagnosed with swine flu, ministry spokeswoman Einav Shimron told AFP.
"A nine-year-old passenger who was on board Flight 026 from New York to Israel is suspected to have contracted the swine flu and is in quarantine," she said.
A five-year-old girl, a relative of one of the Israelis confirmed to have contracted the disease, is also in hospital undergoing tests.
Israel held crisis talks on Tuesday after two Israeli men who recently returned from Mexico were confirmed to have contracted swine flu in the first such cases in the Middle East.
Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian officials are expected to meet next week to discuss ways "to avoid the spread of the disease," the Israeli foreign ministry said.
Palestinian Health Minister Fathi Abu Mughli told reporters that no suspected cases of swine flu had so far been reported in the Palestinian territories and that contact was being maintained with Israelis, Jordanians and Egyptians on the issue.
Some 800 pigs at two farms near Bethlehem were examined to make sure they did not have the virus and the farms were put off limits to all except owners and workers, the Palestinian health ministry announced.
The Lebanese agriculture ministry said the country's 20 to 30 pig farms had been been ordered to take precautionary measures in line with World Health Organisation guidelines.
Health Minister Mohammad Jawad Khalife said Lebanon had an adequate supply of the antiviral drug Tamiflu in the event of any outbreak.
The Gulf state of Kuwait on Wednesday began airport screening of passengers arriving from countries with cases of the swine flu, a health official said.
The United Arab Emirates already announced on Tuesday that it was placing its busy airports under strict surveillance to spot anyone arriving who might have swine flu.
Gulf health ministers are to meet on Saturday to coordinate their efforts against the disease.