Brown tries to calm panic over spread of virus

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Virtually half of England is now under restrictions that prevent animal movement within a zone that stretches from Lincolnshire to Sussex.

The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, said yesterday said that there were now 11 cases of bluetongue. There have also been reports of unconfirmed cases of the midge-spread disease in Norfolk, Essex, Cambridgeshire and the East Midlands. Seven cases of foot and mouth have been reported in recent weeks.

Mr Brown told farmers: "We are taking all the action that is necessary within a protected zone." The Government was "absolutely determined to stamp out the disease, to contain, control and eradicate it". The Secretary of State for the Rural Affairs, Hilary Benn, will consider possible compensation to farmers.

The entire country is now viewed by the Government as being at risk of either bluetongue or foot and mouth. Farmers in Essex are under the greatest restrictions, with Defra describing the county as a "combined zone" due to the threat posed by the two viruses.

"We are talking about two of the great animal plagues of all time," according to Professor Peter Mertens, a bluetongue expert. "To have one is unfortunate but to have two in the same month is a disaster."

A National Farmers Union spokesman said: "Farmers are punch-drunk at the news." JO

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