June 30, 2008

Australia will declare itself free of equine influenza today, marking the end of a long and difficult 11-month journey.

While the virus may be gone, the effects of the outbreak continue to reverberate around Australia, with the nation's quarantine services, found wanting in a Commission of Inquiry report, undergoing a major overhaul.

Many businesses within the horse industry are still feeling the effects and racing says the outbreak has cost its sport and those who rely on it for a living close to $A1 billion.

Class legal action is likely against the federal government for wider industry losses.

The government, which spent about $A100m on eradication and more than $A300m on assistance to those whose livelihoods were hit, has even allowed for the possibility of further payouts in its last Budget.

It features in a section where items that might affect the final bottome line are listed. The amount involved was described as unquantifiable.

Australia has been firmly on track for this day since Christmas, when the last recorded case, in Queensland, was recorded.

Since then, a major testing programme across worst-affected New South Wales and Queensland have failed to find any trace of the disease. Tests were conducted on more than 1800 premises.

The powerful National Management Group, which oversaw the eradication effort, set June 30 as the day for the formal declaration of freedom - provided no further cases came to light.

Millions of dollars and some 300,000 doses of vaccine later, Australia can lay claim to being one of the few countries to successfully eradicate the disease.