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Equine flu bites deeper, cases rise

September 6, 2007

Equine flu Q & A

The economic impact of the equine flu outbreak is spreading as the number of cases in New South Wales continues to rise.

New South Wales now has 1311 horses confirmed as having the disease on 146 properties, with another 3376 horses suspected of having been in contact with the disease. A total of 403 properties are locked down in the state.

The disease has reached the thoroughbred breeding areas of the Upper Hunter Valley, with NSW's Department of Primary Industry (DPI) confirming outbreaks on two stud farms.

"This is bad news for horse breeders," said Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald. "A Murrurundi horse breeding facility and another near Scone are in lockdown.

"These are the first thoroughbred breeding facilities in NSW where horse flu has been detected.

"Obviously, both properties are now declared infected and strict quarantine is in place to stop the further spread of the disease.

"NSW DPI tracing and surveillance teams are now working to identify how the disease made its way on to the properties. We need to establish a link to a known infected property so we understand how this infection occurred."

The thoroughbred industry did receive some good news yesterday. Tests on horses from Warwick Farm, Rosehill and Albury were negative. This has left the door open for a possible "phantom" racing meeting at Warwick Farm this weekend.

The meeting would involve only horses domiciled at the track, and punters would not be permitted at the track.

"Approval for Phantom Races involving horses already quarantined at the track needs to be granted by the national Consultative Community on Emergency Animal Diseases," Mr Macdonald said. That decision is expected today.

The state government would consider extending phantom meetings to Rosehill and Newcastle, he said.

A ban on horse movements remains in place across the state to stop the disease from spreading. "Those that flout the law face a fine of $A44,000 and 12 months jail."

While NSW and Queensland battle to contain the highly contagious virus, the necessary controls are starting to bite deep into the economy.

Aside from the massive losses in racing turnover, many employers in the industry are being forced to lay off staff. Events are being cancelled or horses banned from attending.

The Melbourne Royal Show will go ahead without horses in a move expected to cost organisers $A200,000 in takings. It is the first time in 150 years that horses have not been at the show. About 1000 animals had been expected at the event.

The agricultural show at Quirindi Show will likewise go ahead without any horses, horse events or exhibits. The Royal Adelaide Show has made the same call and organisers of the four-day agricultural show at Geelong, still six weeks away, are drawing up contingency plans for such an eventuality.

Meanwhile, NSW's Minister for Housing Matt Brown has said people affected by the outbreak who are struggling to meet mortgage repayments could be eligible for assistance.

"The NSW Government Mortgage Assistance Scheme helps people who find themselves, through no fault of their own, struggling to meet their mortgage obligations," Mr Brown said.

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