First case of foot-and-mouth in Irish republic

Ireland orders emergency cull in bid to contain the damage after virus is confirmed on an isolated farm
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The Independent Online

Ireland's agriculture industry stared ruin in the face yesterday when, despite weeks of massive national effort, the first foot-and-mouth case was confirmed in the republic.

Ireland's agriculture industry stared ruin in the face yesterday when, despite weeks of massive national effort, the first foot-and-mouth case was confirmed in the republic.

Irish ministers immediately launched a two-pronged offensive designed to protect the country's multi-million-pound trade in food exports while attempting to confine the disease.

It was confirmed on the relatively isolated east-coast peninsula of Cooley. An emergency cull was immediately ordered in the hope of limiting the disease to that area, while even tighter restrictions are expected across the republic. These restrictions on activities in rural areas, and in sport where most main events have for weeks been called off, had been expected to be eased.

But, instead of relaxations, the country faces more stringent precautionary measures, which will mean clampdowns on sporting and other activities.

The official advice to travellers to stay out of Ireland unless visits are absolutely necessary will clearly remain in force, leaving the tourist industry and related activities facing a disastrous summer season.

How the disease spread to the farm was unclear, but the Irish Agriculture Minister, Joe Walsh, announced "an aggressive strategic slaughter in the region", which is expected to cull up to 3,000 sheep and 1,000 cattle within a 1km radius of the outbreak. Exports of animal products from the republic have been suspended.

Michael Rice, the owner of the infected farm, said he was in "a state of shock" over what had happened.

The new case is the latest to be found outside Britain. In Holland, thousands of animals were being slaughtered in exclusion zones around the farms infected with foot and mouth.

The Dutch government will learn later today whether it can go ahead with plans to vaccinate thousands of farm animals to contain an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in three holdings in the east of the country.

A suspected case was also being investigated in Italy.

In Britain, the inexorable increase in cases continued, with 45 new cases confirmed, taking the total to 480.

But scientists who have been analysing the outbreak for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said the "best case scenario" would not see the outbreak peaking for another 17 weeks.

The prediction by experts at the University of Edinburgh raised the prospect of the number of cases increasing well into the summer and well past 3 May, Tony Blair's preferred general election date.

A "conservative" estimate prepared by Mark Woolhouse, a professor of veterinary epidemiology, suggested the number of cases could rise to 918.

Mr Blair was barracked by desperate and anxious farmers when he made a brief visit to Carlisle for talks with leaders of the local agricultural community. Marian Burnup said the pub she runs with her husband in Threlkeld, near Keswick, was losing about £1,500 a week. "We are desperate," she said. "Businesses are going down the drain, people are losing their jobs."

John Walker, 37, who runs an art gallery in Keswick, said: "He comes here and gives people 30 minutes of his time and that just isn't enough."

After the meeting, Mr Blair said: "What I can say is whatever help is necessary we will give."

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