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Equine flu states should do more to help - PM

September 11, 2007

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has accused the state governments of New South Wales and Queensland of not doing enough to help those in the racing industry affected by the equine flu outbreak.

"It is disappointing that the New South Wales and Queensland Governments - who derive many millions of dollars from the horse racing industry - have so far refused to provide any meaningful help to those affected by horse flu," he said in his weekly radio broadcast.

The Federal Government has announced an assistance package of $A110 million, on top of the $A4 million initially provided.

"I would hope that in the coming days the New South Wales and Queensland Governments are able to provide assistance packages of their own."

The Prime Minister said the flu outbreak has had a devastating impact on horse-dependent industries in New South Wales and Queensland. "My Government has been working closely with the industry to ensure that the people it supports - the vast bulk of whom earn modest incomes and work very hard - are supported during this difficult time."

The federal package includes business assistance grants of up to $5000, income support payments for workers who have lost their job or much of their income, and special payments for those who have horses that usually compete or work but cannot due to quarantine restrictions.

Meanwhile, in New South Wales, chief veterinary officer Bruce Christie says the ban on horse movements is working and has dramatically slowed the spread of the disease.

"Equine influenza is confirmed on 401 properties but most are contained within a band that runs from Sydney and its surrounds to the Central Coast, the Hunter Valley and the north west of the state," he said.

"There has been only one outlying spot outbreak in the last four days - which is excellent news."

Vast areas of NSW remain free from the virus, including the south and south west, Northern Rivers, New England and the west.

Isolated spot outbreaks have occurred near Wauchope, Mudgee, Berry, Walcha, Dubbo and Parkes.

"Most newly infected properties are located within the known area, where there is a higher incidence of the disease and dense horse populations. The spread has been mainly caused by horse-to-horse contact and people in contact with horses," he said.

NSW officials confirmed yesterday that three horses on a property north west of Dubbo have tested positive for the flu.

NSW deputy chief veterinary officer, Steve Dunn, said the property is in quarantine and a restricted area with a 10 kilometre radius has been created around the property.

"The horses showed signs of influenza and follow-up tests confirmed the virus," Mr Dunn said.

The horses had attended a campdrafting event held at Narrabri on August 25, and were closely monitored based on their link to that event.

There are now 20 restricted areas in New South Wales.

NSW Department of Primary Industries advises horse owners to isolate horses on or near infected properties and, where possible, to create boundary buffers within individual properties.

The state's leading veterinarians are working on a plan to stop the slow creep of the virus within Restricted Areas in NSW.

In Queensland, there are now 73 confirmed infected properties. They are located in Warwick, Minden, Brookfield, Rosewood, Kenmore Hills, Tamborine, the Goondiwindi region, Julia Creek and Gordonvale.

Officials have reminded people of the risks in moving between horse properties.

The state's chief veterinary Officer, Dr Ron Glanville, said horse owners needed to realise that people can carry the horse flu virus on their clothes, shoes, hats, hair or body.

"People should avoid moving between farms or stables unless it is absolutely necessary, and then, only when correct decontamination is employed."

Testing for equine influenza at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory produced negative results for horses at Julia Creek and Gordonvale, but those quarantines remain in place while the necessary follow-up tests continue.

"In all cases resulting in quarantines to date ... there have been connections with NSW as the source," he said.

In other news, Darley Australia has confirmed three cases of the disease in yearlings at its Hunter Valley property. It is double blow for the stud, which has 17 stallions quarantined at Sydney's Eastern Creek, where the disease was first detected in a stallion from Japan.

The state of Victoria is employing 100 private security guards at state border crossings in a bid to stop equine influenza spreading from NSW and Queensland. The guards would help police and Department of Primary Industry staff at 28 river crossings into the state.



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