Another two weeks has been added to the shutdown of all international FEI events in mainland Europe because of the outbreak of the neurological form of Equine Herpes Virus (EHV-1). The toll is now at 12 after a sixth horse at a Valencia hospital died.
One of the biggest events affected is the FEI World Cup Finals in Gothenburg, Sweden, scheduled from March 31 to April 4. The 2020 finals, in Las Vegas in the US, was cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The extension adds to the 28-day shutdown announced earlier this month by horse sport’s world governing body. The extension, until April 11, aims to minimise the further spread of the very aggressive strain of the virus. It was unanimously approved at an emergency FEI Executive Board meeting on Friday. The extended lockdown applies to all FEI disciplines.
The decision is based on a detailed scientific risk assessment conducted by world-leading epidemiologist Dr Richard Newton and the FEI Veterinary Department.
Work on identifying the gene sequencing of this strain of the virus is under way, and the FEI is continuing to monitor the evolution of the virus through the FEI Veterinary Epidemiology Working Group, which was formalised this week. The Group is composed of world-leading EHV specialists and FEI veterinary officials.
FEI Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez said the additional lockdown was crucial to slow down the spread of the virus so that the rest of the season could be preserved, horses and riders could get back competing safely and allow as long a period as possible for those aiming to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
The extended lockdown applies to all countries that have international scheduled events up to April 11 – Austria, Belgium, Spain, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Sweden. The FEI has recommended that all National Federations in mainland Europe cancel their national events in order to minimise horse movement.
“The extension of the lockdown is difficult for everyone, and the loss of the FEI World Cup Finals for a second year is particularly devastating, especially for the qualified athletes and for our loyal Top Partner Longines,” Ibáñez said.
“We know how much work Tomas Torgersen and his incredible team in Gothenburg have put into organising the 2021 Finals, which would have been part of the 400th birthday anniversary celebrations for the city, so this is a desperately bitter blow.
“We cannot eradicate EHV as it is endemic in many countries, but we need to work together to minimise the transmission of this particular strain, which has already caused the death of 12 horses in Europe. All of the original in-contact horses from Valencia, Vejer de la Frontera and Doha are already blocked on the FEI Database, but the whole community needs to be on the alert and monitoring their horses. We strongly urge all European-based FEI athletes to avoid travel with their horses during this prolonged shutdown, as travel is a very clear risk factor.
“Nobody wants to see an outbreak like this ever again. There will be a comprehensive and fully transparent investigation into every aspect of this outbreak and the way it has been handled, and the findings will be published so that, together with our community, we can all learn from this.
“We will be putting in place enhanced protocols to allow for a safe return to play once this outbreak is under control, and we will advise our community on those well in advance of the resumption of international events, but the priority right now has to be the treatment of sick horses and getting healthy horses back to their home countries in a safe and biosecure way. We all need to focus on safeguarding not just FEI horses, but the wider European horse community.”