June 26, 2008

For weeks it carried the grimmest of news as equine influenza continued its march across New South Wales.

Yesterday, the state's Department of Primary Industries issued its final "situation report" as Australia counts down the last four days to formal flu freedom.

For months, the daily reports told the story of how state officials and horse owners battled to stop the spread of the highly contagious disease.

The news grew better as movement restrictions and a rigorous vaccination programme knocked back the spread. By March, the reports were weekly and by April they were monthly.

Yesterday marked the end: "This is the final equine influenza update from NSW DPI," it said. "From 1 July 2008, NSW will be considered EI free and remaining movement restrictions will be lifted."

From July 1, a travelling horse statement (THS) will not be required before moving horses within NSW, the remaining NSW green zone will revert to white in line with the rest of the state, and cross-border requirements relating to EI will be removed.

"Horse owners will be free to move their horses anywhere in NSW and across state borders without any EI restrictions or reporting requirements."

Vaccination of horses against EI is no longer authorised or permitted in NSW but registration of horse events will continue, and event organisers are required to keep a record of prescribed details of horses in attendance.

It concluded with a "Big thank you all round".

"The eradication of EI has been a huge win for the Australian horse industry. Australia is the only country that has ever succeeded in eradicating this disease and rejoins New Zealand and Iceland as the only EI-free countries!

"The key to control was industry co-operating with the movement restrictions. Without this co-operation, the disease would have rapidly spread throughout Australia.

"Every horse owner who cooperated can rightfully take some of the credit for EI freedom. Well done everyone."

Thanks was also offered to the Australian Horse Industry Council for its co-operation and leadership in the crisis.

Meanwhile, Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald, in announcing the removal of restrictions, said: "This last step in the battle against EI finally brings Australia's largest ever exotic animal disease outbreak to a successful conclusion.

"No other country has successfully eradicated EI and kept it out. New Zealand and Iceland are now the only other EI free countries.

"Many international experts believed we could not eradicate EI. We have again demonstrated our proud history of successfully eradicating animal diseases."

NSW chief veterinary officer Bruce Christie said without the ongoing support, patience and sacrifice of the recreational and professional horse sectors, equine flu would have become endemic.

"Of particular importance was the community's acceptance of the horse standstill," Mr Christie said.

"We could not have controlled the spread of the EI virus without the ongoing cooperation of horse owners.

"At the height of the EI outbreak horses on thousands of properties were infected and more than 200 new property infections were being confirmed each day.

"More than 47,000 horses on almost 6000 properties have now recovered from EI infection and no longer carry the disease.

"To reach this point strict movement restrictions were essential."

The NSW disease control headquarters in Orange will be closed on June 30.

As part of the eradication campaign the NSW government: