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Tasmania fears ease as EI fight continues on mainland

October 15, 2007

NSW DPI's Brett Deaton and Greg Glasgow as the last horse leaves the Parkes Showground with Melissa Corbett (back), two-year-old Makaylah McMaster, six-month-old Stacey McMaster, Neridah Corbett and security guards Jason Burrell and Brian Evans.

The horse movement ban in Tasmania has been lifted as authorities grow confident the cases of respiratory illness in horse in the state's north-west are not equine influenza.

The state's Department of Primary Industries ordered a lockdown as one case, then two others, came to light.

Authorities reported "a much more hopeful turn" on Saturday night and lifted the ban.

"While we do have multiple cases of mild respiratory disease on the north-west coast which we need to investigate further, none of the horses show strong evidence of equine influenza infection," a spokesman said.

There was initial confusion over early test results on the first sick horses, with two tests negative and two positive for equine flu.

The properties currently under investigation remain under quarantine.

While horse movements are now allowed in Tasmania, there remains a ban on gatherings of more than 10 horses (other than race meetings) and horses are not allowed into the state from the mainland. Used horse-related equipment cannot be brought in without a permit.

In worst-affected New South Wales, there are now 4502 infected properties, with 440 considered "dangerous contact" and 470 "suspect".

"The number of IPs has levelled off to about 80 to 100 per day," a Department of Primary Industries spokesman said. "We are concerned about new cases in the Dubbo-Wellington and Parkes-Forbes clusters. The Temora-Barmedman cluster is being monitored closely for any changes in infection numbers.

These new infections are clearly being spread by human contact, he said. "It is imperative that people have good biosecurity on and off horse properties.

"Vaccination buffers in these areas are being maintained to contain infection and in some cases extended to provide further protection. Plans are under consideration for widening southern and northern buffers inwards by vaccinating uninfected horses in red or purple zones adjacent to the buffers."

The department voiced concern about what it said were many ill-founded rumours about where new infections are occurring.

"The rumour mill is undermining confidence in the control effort, especially by saying that NSW DPI is withholding information. NSW DPI will continue to provide all available information."

Horse owners were urged to report suspicious signs in their horses. Failure to do so can result in a fine of up to $A22,000 fine.

With some infected areas not having had a case for 28 days, there will be a gradual move to declare some red zones amber.

Clusters under consideration for clearance by October 22 are Coonamble, Moree and Walcha. Berry, Wauchope, Gloucester and Mudgee are being considered for clearance by November 5.

Meanwhile, the last horse has left the Parkes Showground 51 days after the influenza lockdown began.

"Twenty six horses and their owners left the Parkes Showground at daybreak," Mr Dunn said yesterday. "The horses have been tested and given the all clear to return home and present no risk of spreading disease."

NSW DPI Parkes site supervisor Greg Glasgow said there were scenes of jubilation and tears as horses were loaded onto floats and trucks, camping equipment was packed away and owners said their farewells to each other.

"There was definitely a sense of relief and excitement when the owners received their permits from DPI before beginning their homeward bound journey," he said.

"In some cases, people were sad to say goodbye to the new friends they made at Parkes.

"I thank those owners who stayed by their animals' side at Parkes for their co-operation and support for the EI eradication campaign.

"Their inconvenience has prevented the further spread of the disease ... the whole horse industry should be thankful for that."

Horse leaving Parkes were destined for Candelo, Cobargo, Bega, Nowra, Peak Hill, Alectown, Tomingley and Goonumbla.

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