January 30, 2008

Australia's powerful National Management Group which is overseeing the response to the equine influenza outbreak has endorsed plans to accelerate eradication efforts.

It has also revealed that arrangements for the re-opening of Australia's export markets are continuing with a number of countries, including New Zealand.

Under the eradication plan, the NMG anticipates being able to declare Australia provisionally free of equine influenza by mid-March if no new incidents are detected. That would be three months earlier than originally projected.

The plan builds on the excellent progress made to date at combating the disease and takes into account the surveillance requirements necessary for proving freedom from horse flu.

There have been no new infected properties in New South Wales since December 9 and in Queensland since Christmas Day.

From mid-March it is planned that only a Travelling Horse Statement (in NSW) or a Permit (Queensland) will be required for movement of horses from the old infected zones and no disease testing, pre- or post-movement quarantine, will be required.

"Acceleration of eradication efforts will allow the horse industry to progressively return to normal business much sooner than originally projected and enable events including yearling sales, equestrian events, and widespread racing events to proceed," the NMG said.

"A major key to the adoption of the NMG plan has been the success of the vaccination programme in NSW and Queensland, where more than 90% of targeted horses have received their first vaccination and more than 80% their second."

The group stressed that strict biosecurity and movement restriction arrangements must still be adhered to if Australia is to be successful in eradicating the disease by the mid-March target.

"Arrangements for the re-opening of Australia's export markets are progressing with Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Iran, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, Macau and the Philippines," it said.

"The United States, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland and the Republic of Korea have continued to import horses in accordance with conditions in place prior to the outbreak."

NMG comprises the chief executive officers of the Commonwealth and State/Territory departments of agriculture/primary industries across Australia and also representatives of horse industry peak bodies.

It is chaired by the secretary of the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Dr Conall O'Connell.