Fears mount as f&m disease hits new areas in Britain

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Saturday, March 3 9:55 PM SGT

Fears mount as foot-and-mouth disease hits new areas in Britain

LONDON, March 3 (AFP) -

The highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease plaguing Britain spread to three new areas on Saturday, as fears of the virus hitting the rest of Europe triggered a widespread clampdown on the European continent.

New outbreaks of disease, frequently carried on clothing, footwear and vehicles, were confirmed Saturday in three separate areas of Britain, bringing the total number of cases to 43, veterinary services said.

One case at an abattoir in southwestern England was the first confirmed in Cornwall, chief veterinary officer Jim Scudamore told a news conference.

A second case was confirmed in Scotland, and the third was in Durham county, in the north of England.

As a protective measure, Agriculture Minister Nick Brown said a selective slaughter of cattle in unaffected areas would be carried out under strict sanitary conditions.

Brown said while there was a "small danger" that moving potentially infected animals could increase the risk of the disease spreading, cattle would be slaughtered immediately upon arrival in the abattoirs.

The measures were being carried out to improve the economic situation of many animal farmers, who have suffered as foot-and-mouth disease has gradually spread, and to replenish the rapidly-dwindling meat supply in certain areas around Britain.

The minister called on veterinarians in Europe, Australia and New Zealand to help Britain deal with the scourge.

"We need extra help," he said.

With the farming industry on the brink of bankruptcy, Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair on Friday said the ban on livestock movements would be partially eased.

Throughout the rest of Europe, however, the countryside was paralysed as anti-disease measures were tightened.

Belgium on Saturday banned all livestock transport and clamped a 20-kilometer (12-mile) security cordon around a northwestern pig farm amid suspicions the outbreak had leapt to the continent.

Belgium's Agriculture Minister Jaak Gabriels said preliminary tests on five suspected cases in the farming community of Diksmuide, western Flanders, had come up "negative," but that final results would not be known until Tuesday.

Until Saturday, the foot-and-mouth outbreak was believed to have been confined to the British mainland, where it surfaced last week, and in Northern Ireland, where a case was reported on Thursday.

On Friday, however, cases of the disease were reported in the central Turkish province of Konya, where four villages were placed under quarantine, according to Turkish officials quoted by the Anatolia news agency.

In Ireland, the only country to share a land border with Britain, measures to stop foot-and-mouth spreading from Northern Ireland were becoming increasingly desperate.

Another 500-strong contingent of police was drafted in to seal the frontier, and there was a clampdown on farmers flouting the controls on livestock movements.

"We are on a virtual war footing here, and on full alert," said Irish Agriculture Minister Joe Walsh.

-- Swissrose (cellier3@mindspring.com), March 03, 2001

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