June 14, 2008

Australia will be formally declared free of equine influenza on June 30, the powerful National Management Group (NMG) overseeing the disease response has announced.

"NMG received reports from all jurisdictions that active surveillance had found no new infected horses since December 9, 2007, in NSW and December 25, 2007, in Queensland, and as a result Australia will declare itself free of the disease on June 30," it said.

The declaration should allow New Zealand to ease strict quarantine requirements for horses brought in from Australia.

However, this will require a review of the country's new import health standard for horses only recently adopted to allow imports from Australia, provided a total of five weeks quarantine and other conditions were met.

It is uncertain how long such a review will take.

Allison Lozell, of Sea Horse Sea Freight, welcomed the news, but said many questions remained over the resumption of sea-freight transport.

The company has been unable to resume imports under the new import health standard because it does not have access to privately run quarantine facilities.

"There are a lot of people with their horses stranded over there," she says. "They can't afford the $10,000 to fly them back."

Her advice to people remains to sit tight and watch developments.

Back in Australia, the NMG met late this week for what it hoped would be its second-last meeting before the formal declaration of flu freedom.

"NMG agreed that Australia's robust animal disease response arrangements allowed Australia to eradicate the disease in a much faster time-frame than was thought possible and acknowledged this success would have not have been possible without the support of the horse industry, the three levels of government, and the wider community."

It took 125 days to eradicate the disease at a direct cost of more than $A100 million.

The cost of support for horse industry workers has pushed the total cost of well over $A300m.

There were more than 10,000 identified infected premises with more than 76,000 horses thought to have been infected.

More than 300,000 doses of vaccine were administered, and, since the last case was identified in December 2007, random surveillance in New South Wales and Queensland has been conducted at more than 1800 premises.

NMG is made up of the chief executive officers of the commonwealth and state/territory departments of agriculture and primary industries across Australia and also the heads of the peak bodies representing the horse industry.

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