Equine Influenza Crisis Worsens in Australia

Thu, 08/30/2007 - 00:00
Australian Dressage News

As reported by the Australian Equestrian Federation: Most of you will have been visiting the EFA National web and your Branch webs to get up-to-date information on the Equine Influenza outbreak and how to handle it.

We have been working particularly with the NSW and Queensland Departments of Primary Industry because these two States are the ones affected most. We have also been taking part in teleconferences with authorities at State and National level not only to stay up-to-date but also to put our case and constantly remind everyone that this emergency is more than just a racing industry issue. To push this argument further, the NSW Branch has engaged the services of a Public Relations consulting firm and has already had meetings with the NSW Minister for Agriculture and success in reaching the media and putting "our case" across.

We are aware that many of our members are stranded with their horses at locations far away from home. We are trying hard to find ways to help them. The NSW Branch is assisting stranded members with a cash payment of $200, a great gesture. Thank you, EFA NSW.

In other good news today, the Federal Government has provided $4 millions dollarsfor a fund to "provide emergency grants to individuals suffering financial difficulty as a result of the Equine Influenza (EI) outbreak". The funds will be managed by the Qld. and NSW Racing bodies, but these have already indicated that they will seek EFA assistance in the management. An application form should be available next weeks.

About 250 horses are stranded at Warwick in southern Queensland, following the cancellation of the World Cup Eventing qualifier and of associated competitions. Our President Geoff Sinclair and I happened to be at the venue for the event and assisted organisers and Qld. DPI officials to manage the crisis. FEI vet Julian Willmore did an outstanding job in very difficult circumstances. In the meantime, the Qld. Government has pulled out all stops to assist with the situation and under State emergency legislation has turned the site into a self-countained mini-city ("Morgantown") with portable classrooms for the school children there, paying for all feed, veterinary and other horse care, employing the vets on site, providing three meals a day and setting up an emergency fund of $20,000, which is managed by the local council. The town of Warwick has rallied to provide additional food and other items and is raising more money to assist. Our thanks and congratulations for such a marvellous effort!

Situation Overview

Equine Influenza was first detected at the Eastern Creek Quarantine Station and somehow spread to Centennial Park Stables in the centre of Sydney. Before it became clear that horses there had been infected, some of them had been taken to events in a number of areas where they transferred the virus to other horses, which in turn spread it further. The bad news today was that the virus has taken hold at Randwick racing stables, worsening the situation substantially. Obviously, there needs to be a full inquiry into how all of this could happen.

The fact that the crisis developed over a weekend made the management of the emergency more difficult (along the old adage: "If you want to create chaos/wage war, do it on weekends."). Many riders were already on the road to events and shows had started all over the country. It was easy to send out mass e-mails, which we did, SMS messages and put notices on the web, but much of this did not reach our members and the general public until they got back home. We have been keeping our web sites as up-to-date as possible since.

The "standstill" and the ban on events mainly in Queensland and New South Wales (restrictions in other States appear to be easing) is impacting on everyone involved in the sport: riders/drivers/vaulters, grooms, horse owners, horse breeders, coaches and horse trainers, other equine service providers, clubs and event organisers, equestrian venue owners, businesses such as trucking companies, feed suppliers, etc. and their employees and so on. There is also the negative flow-on effect to the local community when events are cancelled and expected income from visitors is lost. It is not easy to assess the overall impact but we would like your help with a survey (see below).

The whole crisis makes you wonder whether authorities will consider the introduction of a vaccination program in Australia, which would largely eliminate the problems we are facing now. Stocks of suitable vaccines are very low in Australia as they are held mainly for use on horses going overseas. There is a belief in some quarters that if an effective vaccination program on horse sport performance horses was started right now, with the initial two vaccinations given within the shortest possible timespan, the sport could be safely "back in business" in October.

One also wonders why is it so hard to get more accurate information about what is is going to happen in various scenarios. For example, if Randwick racing stables become the only remaining place of infection, will the rest of the State still have a horse standstill? Will horses be able to travel interstate in that situation? At what time would the Eastern Creek Quarantine Station become available again if there are no further flare-ups in the facility? (We have horses waiting in Hong Kong and Britain waiting to come back to Australia and we are waiting for an "arrival window to be approved for the Japanese team to come to an Olympic Dressage Team Qualifier here.)

For an update on the serious impact of the crisis on our High Performance program and our Olympic preparations, including National Championships and Olympic Qualifiers, please see news issued today.

Impact Survey

We would like members, clubs and other affiliated organisations to participate in a survey that aims to get a better picture of how the current emergency and its restrictions is impacting on them. This information will be used in dealings with Government authorities to get financial and other support.Clubs that have no formal affiliation with the EFA are also invited to take part.

There are two forms you can use: One to print off, fill in by hand and fax or post to us, and an electronic form that allows you to e-mail just the answers automatically by pressing a button on the form.

Related Link
'Standstill' of horses now Australia-wide for at least 72 hours