Sunday, August 26, 2007

Australia: Ban came too late to stop spread

Sydney Morning Herald

Natasha Wallace and Bellinda Kontominas
August 27, 2007

THOUSANDS of people were either unaware of the equine flu outbreak or thought it affected only the racing industry and were moving horses around the state, possibly spreading the disease, by the time authorities issued a nationwide ban on movement.

On Saturday, Federal and state governments declared an emergency standstill of all horses after 11 cases of the highly contagious equestrian influenza were detected at Centennial Park, and one at Eastern Creek in a stallion which had travelled from Japan.

By yesterday afternoon, the State Disease Control Headquarters had traced infected horses to Parkes, Moombi (near Tamworth), Broughton Vale (near Berry), Wilberforce, Cattai and Wyong.

The ban applies to all equine animals, products and trucks and prohibits any gathering for recreation or competition, including markets, fairs and race meetings.

But horse trucks and floats had hit the road on Friday night - when a possible outbreak was detected - and early on Saturday - before the alerts were issued.

Even as late as yesterday, there were reports of horse floats on the roads, according to Judy Fasher, who is on the board of the NSW Branch of the Equestrian Federation of Australia.

An outbreak, if established, would have a large effect on the horse industry, she said. Australia's horse population is highly susceptible as the disease has never hit the country before.

"The implications are enormous," said Ms Fasher, who is also the co-ordinator of the elite equestrian program at the NSW Institute of Sport.

"The question is, who is taking responsibility for this so the horse floats that are on the road … with horses on them are being stopped?"

She added: "At the time when [the alert] needed to go out, which was basically Friday night, it was not and also people got the impression that it was the racing industry only."

She had seen people riding in her neighbourhood of Wilberforce, near Windsor, "well after the announcement" on Saturday.

"People don't understand the implications of it and they just think, oh well, that's the horse racing industry, and not us,"

she said.

Ms Fasher said all NSW equestrian events had been cancelled until further notice.

News of the lockdown did not come soon enough for about 80 people who were expecting to compete in the annual Shahzada endurance test - a week-long riding event at St Albans, north-west of Sydney.

An organiser, Ross Mudie, said the first news of the outbreak had come mid-morning on Saturday.

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