Britain steps up efforts to curb foot-and-mouth

Out with sports, St. Patrick's parades

in with disinfectant

March 03, 2001|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON - There'll be no St. Patrick's Day parade in Dublin, no visitors to Dolly the cloned sheep in Scotland and no respite for Britain in the battle to halt a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak that continued to wreak havoc yesterday.

From hundreds of cancellations of sporting and social events to stop the spread of the disease to gruesome preparations to incinerate livestock, Britain girded itself for a long battle against a fast-moving ailment.

Striking cloven-hoofed animals such as pigs, sheep and cattle, the illness has been confirmed at 40 British sites, including a Northern Ireland farm near the border with the southern Irish Republic. Authorities said at least 37,000 animals will have to be destroyed.

The disease, which rarely infects humans, is caused by a virus. Its symptoms include loss of appetite and blisters on the animals' mouth and feet. It infects the animals' milk and saliva, and is spread by contact with contaminated food, water or soil. Vaccines have virtually eliminated the disease from North America.

Ireland, which has no reported cases, is on a "virtual war footing" to keep the disease out, the country's agriculture minister said. As a result, there won't be much to celebrate this St. Patrick's Day.

Late Thursday night, officials postponed Dublin's four-day St. Patrick's Day festivities, in mid-March, which annually draw 1.3 million revelers, including 2,000 members of American marching bands.

"What we're saying now is that it's no time to have a party or a festival, but that when we're out of the other side of this crisis, it will be time to have a party," Maria Moynihan, the festival's chief executive, said in an interview yesterday with Irish radio.

Meanwhile, France termed as "preventative measures" a ban on Irish livestock, a move that shows just what is at stake for Ireland, which still has a vibrant agricultural economy, even though it boasts a fast-growing high-tech sector. And Argentina announced yesterday a $22 million plan to vaccinate cattle herds against the disease.

In Ireland, authorities were desperately trying to cut travel and blunt the disease, which can be passed by clothes, vehicles and the wind. Border checkpoints manned by 1,000 unarmed soldiers were set up at more than 100 locations, leading to huge traffic jams on two-lane roads.

"We are on a virtual war footing here - and on full," Irish Agricultural Minister Joe Walsh told reporters.

Irish Premier Bertie Ahern called the crisis a "once-a-generation threat," and agricultural officials mounted "precautionary" checks at a number of farms and slaughterhouses.

In Northern Ireland's southern county Armagh, site of one case, more than a dozen Roman Catholic churches canceled Sunday Mass, and virtually every weekend sporting and social event was postponed.

In Scotland, where the disease was detected yesterday at a third site, Dolly, the world's most famous sheep, and first cloned mammal, was quarantined by officials at the Roslin Institute.

Britain revealed plans to get uninfected livestock moving speedily from farms to slaughterhouses next week, even as shoppers were warned to expect higher meat prices in supermarkets, with pork and lamb likely to be 15 percent more expensive.

"This is not a return to normal business," Nick Brown, British agricultural minister, said as he announced plans to lift a week-old nationwide travel ban on livestock, and introduce highly regulated slaughterhouse trips for British livestock.

Yesterday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said, "We will do everything humanly possible to eradicate the disease and help farmers through this painful and anxious time."

He added that the "outbreaks so far can still be traced back to one source" - a farm in Northumberland, in England's northeast.

According to Reuters, travelers from Britain also faced new measures - dipping shoes in disinfectant on arrival in Portugal, crossing a carpet treated with a solvent in Cyprus, and spraying truck tires at French ports. Travelers arriving in Australia who have been in Britain in the past 90 days will be subject to extra checks.

The Austrian government also advised its citizens to make no unnecessary trips to Britain.

Kevin Herglotz, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said government inspectors have stepped up scrutiny at ports of entry for travelers from Britain. He said some travelers arriving from Britain are having their shoes and boots disinfected if they declare they have visited farming areas.

"We feel pretty confident about the system we have in place," Herglotz said, "and have to remain vigilant in our efforts to make sure it doesn't enter the U.S."

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