FMD Likely to Hit New Year Holidays

SOUTH KOREA - Many provincial governments have launched a campaign to dissuade people from travelling to other areas during the Lunar New Year holiday in an attempt to stop the spread of FMD.
calendar icon 21 January 2011
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Many Koreans who work and live in Seoul and other urban areas were born and raised in the provinces. It is a decades-old tradition that they visit their hometowns to see their parents, relatives and friends at least twice a year – the Lunar New Year (or Seollal) and Chuseok holidays, reports Korea Times.

But this biannual ritual may not materialize during the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday from 2 to 6 February as the mass migration could cause the spread of foot-and-mouth (FMD) disease and bird flu to uninfected areas.

Since the first FMD outbreak was reported in Andong, North Gyeongsang Province, on 29 November, the deadly virus has spread to nearly all parts of the country, except for the southern regions of South Gyeongsang Province, North Jeolla Province, South Jeolla Province and Jeju Island.

The central and local governments have so far culled more than two million cows and pigs to stop the spread of the virus at an estimated cost of around two trillion won.

Additionally, government officials and poultry farmers have been dealing with the bird flu epidemic since 29 December, when ducks and chickens at farms in Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province, and Iksan, North Jeolla Province, tested positive for the virulent strain of H5N1 avian influenza. The virus has spread to other regions, including Anseong, Gyeonggi Province, and Naju, South Jeolla Province, resulting in the culling of thousands of chickens and other poultry at infected farms.

In a desperate attempt to stop the devastating epidemic, scores of provincial governments have launched a campaign to prevent people from travelling to other areas during the Lunar New Year holiday.

Among others, South Jeolla Province, which has seen not a single case of FMD, is asking those who plan to visit there during the five-day holiday not to do so in a bid to stop the spread of the highly infectious virus, reports Korea Times.

The provincial government has asked dozens of organizations made up of individuals born in the country’s southwestern province not to visit their hometowns.

Lee Ki-ho, director of the livestock quarantine department at the South Jeolla Provincial Government, said: "If we can prevent FMD from spreading to our area during the upcoming holiday, we are positive that South Jeolla Province will remain FMD-free. It is not easy to say this but we desperately need people who have family members here not to come this time."

Mr Lee also said those who have to come to visit hometowns should fully cooperate with the provincial government's quarantine efforts and refrain from going to livestock farms and habitats for migratory birds.

He said: "We also asked the Ministry of Public Administration and Security to publicise our campaign through media outlets. Residents here have been asked to tell their family members in Seoul and other areas not to come during the holiday."

North Jeolla Province and South Gyeongsang Province have also taken similar measures to prevent the spread of FMD and bird flu.

Meanwhile, the government has decided to vaccinate all cows and pigs to stop the massive culling of animals.

In the past, South Korea, like many other countries, refrained from using vaccines because of the high cost and concerns of the country being unable to quickly regain its FMD-free status causing a negative impact on both exports and imports.

Seoul opted to start limited vaccinations on 25 December, and moved for wholesale inoculation of more the 13.4 million cattle and pigs in the country this month, only after quarantine efforts proved ineffective.

Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Yoo Jeong-bok said on 18 January that the current epidemic is the most severe outbreak of FMD in the country's history.

Korea Times reports him saying: "The dire situation has called for a 'rethinking' of the government's quarantine guidelines. We have and will use vaccines to deal with FMD and to employ it as a preventative measure."

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