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Flu eradication backed at highest level as milestone reached

December 3, 2007

Australian authorities have now despatched more than 100,000 vaccinations in the fight to eradicate equine influenza in New South Wales and Queensland. The news came as the key group responsible for approving funding for the eradication campaign said it believed the disease battle was being won.

"There remains a strong expectation eradication will be achieved if people adhere to precautions designed to prevent its spread," the National Management Group (NMG) said in a statement.

The NMG is made up of the chief executives of the commonwealth and state or territory departments of agriculture or primary industries, as well as representatives of the horse industry peak bodies.

Its view is crucial as the NMG is behind the cohesive nationwide response to the disease and has so far approved funding of $A72 million to fight the disease.

The group said the focus continued to be control of the disease, but warned that Christmas will be a crucial time in the campaign.

"NMG's view is the battle with equine influenza is being won, but during the pending Christmas holiday period, as many people move about and come into contact with horses, strict compliance with ongoing biosecurity measures will be required to ensure there are no new outbreaks of the disease."

The group, chaired by Dr Conall O'Connell, secretary of the federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, was also encouraged by a reduction in numbers of new infected premises being reported, and the continued roll-out of the vaccination programme.

It welcomed news of an increase in the number of green zones in New South Wales, zone changes planned for early December in Queensland, and last weekend's return to Sydney metropolitan and south-east Queensland racing.

NSW Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald also welcomed the return to racing at Royal Randwick - the first meeting there since the flu outbreak began, and said that more than 100,000 doses of vaccine had been dispatched in the state.

Most of the vials had been allocated to the buffer containment strategy and purple zone vaccination areas, with the remainder divided among horse industry sectors.

"To date, 55,830 doses have been delivered to local vaccination centres for use in buffers and 17,000 for uninfected horses in the purple zone.

"Horses, ponies, donkeys, mules and other equine animals including zebras and Przewalski horses at Dubbo's Western Plains Zoo are being strategically vaccinated in buffers at locations where they can help stop horse flu spreading.

"So far more than 27,000 first round buffer shots had been completed, with another 2000 targeted. More than 7000 horses have already received their second shot.

"Progress has slowed down over the past week due to rain, but when in full swing in good weather we have close to 50 teams working throughout the buffers."

Mr Macdonald said the goal of purple zone vaccination was to help animals that had not contracted EI build up their immunity to speed up the burning out of the EI virus should those horses later become infected.

"We have up to 40 teams targeting isolated pockets with a combination of high horse densities and low infection rates, down to within one kilometre of an infected property if the infection is not active," he said.

"About 7500 horses in the purple zone have so far received their first shot. Again, rain has affected progress over the last week."

In other news, the National Management Group has agreed that further work should proceed on protocols that will progressively free up the movement of horses between control zones and also between states.

"These protocols will allow horses that have been stranded in infected states since August to return to their home states once certain conditions have been met. Different protocols will apply depending on which zone the horse is currently located and where its final destination is."

The NMG expects each jurisdiction to issue formal notification of these new arrangements soon.

Meanwhile, horses in NSW are now able to move freely between Moree and the Coast via the Gwydir Highway following an extension to the NSW equine influenza protection plan's green zone.

The green zone boundary has been adjusted to take in a small section of the Gwydir Highway near Moree that remained in the amber zone when a further 10 million hectares moved from high risk (amber) to lower risk (green) last week.

It includes the township of Moree and extends about 6km west of Moree and 6km south of Moree on the Newell Highway.

Deputy chief veterinary officer Steve Dunn said the decision to extend the boundary had been taken to allow horse movements along the only direct route to Warialda and the coast.

"Each decision to alter the status of a zone is based on proof-of-freedom testing because we have to be certain that there is no disease present," Mr Dunn said.

"It makes sense to include the Gwydir Highway east in the green zone because it opens up an important transport route to horse owners who have waited a long time to participate in events or move their horse to another location."

A travelling horse statement (THS) is required for each and every movement within the green zone, and must be carried at all times.



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