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Equine flu cases climb towards 5000

September 12, 2007

A new restricted area has been introduced in Sydney's north as the number of cases across New South Wales climbs towards 5000.

The new restricted zone covers the entire Ku-ring-gai and Warringah local government areas, after horses returned positive tests at Terrey Hills and Belrose.

The number of restricted areas across NSW now stands at 27, with officials saying more than 4600 horses have caught the disease on 410 properties. The main breeding area in the Hunter Valley is worst affected.

NSW deputy chief veterinary officer Ian Roth reminded horse owners that, aside from the state-wide ban on horse movements, even tighter restrictions applied within restricted zones.

"Within the restricted areas there is also a standstill on the movements of horse-transport vehicles and horse floats, and horse equipment such as saddlery, unless they have been cleaned and disinfected.

"People and other animals can move freely except on and off the infected property.

"If possible, people should allow 72 hours between contact with other horses and your own horses. If this is not possible, make sure you change all clothing and shower and wash your hair," he said.

Over 200 personnel are working throughout NSW as part of ongoing efforts to manage the outbreak, with chief veterinary officer Bruce Christie saying the state was "strongly committed" to eradicating the virus. "Everything possible is being done to protect horse owners and their animals and ultimately to beat this outbreak.

"While we expect the number of positive tests for EI to continue to rise in coming days, the comprehensive tracing systems we have in place allow us to accurately monitor and anticipate where the spread will go and establish restricted areas quickly."

"Our main message remains the same: adhere to the horse standstill across the state and report sick horses as soon as possible."

About 110 staff are currently working with affected people out of the Local Disease Control Centre at Menangle, while another team is working from the State Disease Control Centre, set up at the Department of Primary Industry's head office at Orange.

In addition, personnel are operating from five forward-command posts at Gosford, Parkes, Richmond, Scone and Tamworth to help manage the outbreak and reinforce communications in key areas.

Meanwhile, breeders and trainers are said to be preparing a class-action lawsuit against the federal government over the outbreak, seeking compensation and laying the blame for the disease's introduction on federal authorities.

The government has already announced a formal inquiry into the outbreak, to be headed by retired High Court judge, Ian Callinan.

In other news, New Zealand Bloodstock Airfreight made its first flight to Australia yesterday since a suspension of all flights carrying horses between New Zealand and Australia was announced in the wake of the outbreak.

Airfreight manager Greg Northcott said: "We carried five horses to Melbourne from Auckland at midday today, including one racehorse, and now plan to resume our scheduled weekly service to Melbourne from next Tuesday as long as there is the demand for it."

New Zealand Bloodstock Airfreight also plans a flight from Auckland to Perth on September 19.

New Zealand's borders remain closed to all horses from Australia.

"At this stage MAFBNZ has advised us that it's too early to say when the suspension on imports will be lifted, however we are currently working closely with them to put a plan into action so we can be ready to import as soon as practicably possible," he said.

"While we are eager to return to business as usual our main objective has to be to keep New Zealand EI free so we are working through all the options for future travel and quarantine procedures."



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