Aussies Fear EI Outbreak

There is no need to fear or panic...well, maybe just a little need, as the arriving shipment of overseas horses to the now infamous Eastern Creek Quarantine facility in Sydney revealed a health risk Sept. 24.

For it seems one of the visitors has come in with equine influenza (EI)...again.

Preliminary tests revealed traces but a second test, with the results being known on the weekend, will shed a clearer picture.

EI cost the Australian racing and breeding industry potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue last year. But tighter biosecurity measures are now in place and quarantine experts are confident there will not be a shutdown of the industry on the scale of last season.

The 74 horses that arrived last week from abroad will undergo further testing. The horse said to have brought EI back into Australia is believed to have been imported from the United Kingdom.

Federal Agriculture minister Tony Burke said in a statement Sept. 24 in Sydney that he had been advised that all quarantine procedures, including decontamination as recommended by the Callinan inquiry into last year's outbreak, were being observed.

He added that no horse will be leaving the facility until it is 100% assured there will be no outbreak this year.

"If there's a view that there are quarantine risks then they remain in the quarantine station, and I've set no timelines beyond that," Burke said. "Right at this point, I'm not at the stage of being able to say it's time to relax because the second result came back as a negative.

"The billion-dollar figure is often quoted, but the truth is we'll never know the full cost of that outbreak."

But racing fans looking forward to the sport returning to Royal Randwick in Sydney Sept. 27 have been assured whatever happens in the testing lab this weekend, racing will go ahead.

The boss of New South Wales racing, Peter V'Landys, said Saturday's feature Randwick meeting was in no danger even if the latest test was positive. He said there was no need for panic as all the state's racing stock was immunized.

"It highlights that Thoroughbreds are in the best position because they have been vaccinated," V'Landys said. "We can sleep a little bit easier knowing that. There is no need for panic. Even if the test comes back positive, it will be business as usual for us."

But that has not satisfied some industry players, particularly breeders, and cautious optimism is in the air at present.