GB: Foot and mouth crisis worsens : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Britain's Foot-And-Mouth Crisis Worsens

By Ralph Gowling

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's fast spreading foot-and-mouth outbreak threatens day-to-day life from children missing school to the cancellation of sports fixtures -- and may even delay a widely expected general election.

Prime Minister Tony Blair stepped up efforts Tuesday to stamp out the devastating livestock disease, holding emergency talks with senior ministers and announcing new draconian measures including fines of up to $7,215 to ensure people observe the ``no go'' status imposed on large tracts of rural Britain.

The scale of the week-long disaster was hitting home as the number of confirmed cases of foot-and-mouth disease leapt to 18 during the day from 12. They were also spread across the country.

The whole of Britain was having to come to terms with a crisis that could go on for weeks and possibly months -- while Europe remained on red alert in case the highly infectious disease spreads across the English Channel.

Television stations and newspapers carried more chilling pictures of thousands of animal carcasses being burned at sites across Britain and mainland Europe -- either because of infection or as a precaution.

Blair said in an Internet broadcast that the situation was ''grave'' and added: ``The funeral pyres of farm animals are the worst nightmare for livestock farmers.''

Horse racing was banned in Britain for a week and this weekend's rugby match between Ireland and Wales in Cardiff was postponed for fear that traveling horses and sports fans might carry the virus to previously unaffected areas.

Much At Stake For Blair

For Blair there is much at stake because opinion polls have suggested that a general election in April or May would propel him back into power for a second term with another huge parliamentary majority.

But holding an election campaign amid the contagious virus looks impossible and Blair now faces close scrutiny over his handling of the crisis that could affect his standing with voters.

``Some people are already ruling out April (for an election) a time when we're saying to everyone to stay out of the countryside,'' Doug Henderson, a senior politician in Blair's Labor Party, told the BBC.

``It may be that May is not possible either and therefore we may have to look beyond the summer even for a general election date.''

Clearly mindful of the powerful rural vote, Blair's Labor government announced a 168 million pound ($242.4 million) compensation package for beef, sheep and dairy farmers hit by foot-and-mouth -- a disease that can spread like wildfire through the air, on people's clothes and on vehicle tires.

The government extended the ban on the movement of all livestock within the country until March 16 and introduced fines to stop people using footpaths and bridleways in rural areas that had been closed because of the virus, which affects cows, pigs, sheep and goats. A worldwide ban on British livestock and animal products remained in force.

Europe Steps Up Crackdown

In Europe, a crackdown against the risk of foot-and-mouth gained momentum. Germany said it would extend a quarantine zone Wednesday around a farm where five sheep had come into contact with animals infected with foot-and-mouth but had not contracted the disease.

France announced it would destroy 20,000 sheep imported from Britain, and German and Dutch authorities ordered more animals to be slaughtered as a precaution.

Poland banned imports of livestock, including pigs, goats and sheep, from the European Union and other European countries.

Activity at livestock markets across Ireland was suspended and the government told farmers to cancel meetings and keep animal movements to a minimum.

But it was in everyday life that the effects of the disease were starting to be felt. British supermarket chiefs met Tuesday to discuss how to cope with the loss of supplies from their domestic producers.

``We can keep the shelves reasonably full as long as everybody remains relatively sensible,'' one retailer told Britain's Financial Times newspaper.

In some rural areas children were kept away from school for fear of spreading the virus. Parks and nature reserves remained closed to the public.

Britain's Jockey Club announced the outbreak had forced it to suspend all horse racing for one week starting Wednesday. The suspension immediately raised doubts about one of the highlights of the racing calendar -- the Cheltenham Gold Cup on March 15. The world's most famous steeplechase, the Grand National, is due to be held in early April.

In Dublin, the Irish government banned horse and greyhound meetings and imports of the animals from Britain.

The body representing Britain's one million anglers called on its members to stay out of the countryside and the Ramblers Association said it had been telling its 130,000 members not to walk in areas affected by foot-and-mouth and to avoid livestock.

($1-.6930 Pound)

-- Swissrose (, March 01, 2001

Moderation questions? read the FAQ