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Britain Up in Arms Over Foot-And-Mouth Disease; Major Sporting Events Canceled as Precaution

Aired March 2, 2001 - 1:03 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: All of Britain and much of Europe are up in arms over foot-and-mouth disease. And while this disease affects livestock not people, millions of Europeans and anybody planning European vacations or business trips are being affected, too.

We will show you how in a moment, but first here's where things stand. There are now 39 confirmed cases of foot-and-mouth from all over Britain, plus Scotland and Northern Ireland. For a week now, even non-infected animals from non-infected farms have been barred from human consumption, but thousands have been slaughtered anyway, and burned, as a precaution.

Today, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said all the known cases are ultimately traceable to a single site in Northern England near the Scottish border.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It's simply too early to say what the full extent of the outbreak is. At the moment -- and I stress at the moment -- each of the cases identified, even in Northern Ireland or in Scotland, are all traceable back to the one farm, the origin of it in Northumberland. And therefore, at the moment, we don't have a situation where there are secondary and tertiary infections taking place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: In part for that reason, officials say animals that test clean for foot-and-mouth may again be sent to British slaughterhouses as early as Monday.

Foot-and-mouth isn't fatal to most of the livestock it strikes, but it does cause animals with cloven hooves -- pigs, sheep and cows, but not horses -- to waste away, to stop producing milk and offspring. It ruins their economic value, and unsuspecting humans can carry it from farm to farm. And that's the reason millions of Brits will watch sports on the television this weekend instead of going to stadiums; and why Dubliners, of all people, will celebrate a low-key St. Patrick's Day.

Our coverage continues with CNN's London bureau chief, Tom Mintier. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM MINTIER, CNN LONDON BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): The Irish will not fill the streets of Dublin on St. Patrick's Day this March 17. Due to concerns over foot-and-mouth disease, the parade has been called off.

Ireland, a farming-intensive country, normally draws half a million people for Dublin's parade. The fear is that some of those people would have been exposed to foot-and-mouth virus and then transmitted to others in the crowd, setting off a chain that would ultimately spread the virus to uninfected farms.

The international rugby match between Ireland and Wales has also been canceled. So, too, is horse and dog racing. Just about any place large crowds can gather, events are being canceled or discouraged. The economic losses could be staggering: millions upon millions of dollars in lost revenue and taxes.

A major three-day meeting at Cheltenham, a key event on the English horse racing calendar, will go on, but without any Irish horses after trainers pulled out of the event.

Farm areas are now off limits to city residents, and parks and hiking trails that have wild animal populations are closed to the public.

TIM LANG: I will applaud as a public health person, applaud the way the government has acted. If it had dillydallied, no doubt it would be spreading like mad.

MINTIER: All over Europe, governments are stepping up foot-and- mouth precautions. Customs officials are looking for meat or dairy products in trucks or in suitcases, because the products could be contaminated. Vehicles crossing the borders are driving across disinfectant pads. Many people seem to support the measures.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes you just have to put your own needs or your own interests second.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think if the authorities think it's necessary, I think it's the right thing to do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The more people you can keep away from any country venues, I think the better it is.

MINTIER: There seem to be few exceptions to the concern. Up on Scotland, at the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh, the first cloned animal, Dolly, was put into quarantine. At the final end of the food chain, there are also effects. Some supermarkets now say precautions are hitting home.

(on camera): With slaughter houses closed and no new animals coming to market, butchers and grocery stores may have to look elsewhere for supply. The shelves are not empty, but some chains have already made contact with meat suppliers outside of Britain -- just in case.

Tom Mintier, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Joining us now to talk more about cancellation of those sporting events, Patrick Snell, a London-based reporter and anchor for CNN/Sports Illustrated.

Patrick, here in America we can understand taking precautions preventing humans from going from farm to farm. But what's the purpose of -- they're not cattle races, after all. Why prevent humans from going to a sporting event?

PATRICK SNELL, CNN/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: Well, absolutely. I mean, basically the situation here is absolute caution, nothing left to chance, no risks to be taken at all. And that is why we're getting this picture.

In Tom Mintier's report, we've heard already that the Wales- Ireland match has been canceled. Nothing being left to chance. This has come, of course, as a major shock, a major disappointment to a lot of sporting fans. The Six Nations international rugby series is probably the world's biggest rugby football tournament. And, of course, that's caused massive, massive disappointment.

There was speculation also that other fixtures could be going, but the Six Nations committee has met today in London, and at the moment no other fixtures have been canceled, although certain fixtures, namely this one so far, the Wales-Ireland game, will be rescheduled at some point.

WATERS: But this will all be televised, will it not?

SNELL: The games will go ahead. The one scheduled for tomorrow, like I say, the England-Scotland game, that will be televised as scheduled. And, yes, there will be fans at the relevant games. That game is being played in Twiken (ph) and England. There will be a full house capacity of 80,000 people there. Certainly the enthusiasm for the sport certainly hasn't diminished, but of course precautions. People are extremely wary of the current situation.

WATERS: You say the fans are disappointed, but are they up in arms at all? We know from reports about British sports and the fans who attend them that sometimes they tend to get out of hand?

SNELL: Not at all. I think the situation here, people are largely sensible. People do understand the situation.

Tom Mintier mentioned the Cheltenham prestigious racing festival scheduled for later this month. That is likely, possibly, to go ahead, maybe delayed by a month or so. That depends on the outcomes of tests on a farm nearby that field.

Irish trainers took the decision yesterday not to travel. They pulled out of that race. The bottom line is here, people are aware of the situation, and no one wants to jeopardize anything, least of all their health.

WATERS: All right, Patrick Snell for CNN/Sports Illustrated from London -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Well, in many cases as well, travel into and out of Britain is no holiday these days because of this. Travelers arriving in Portugal from points in the UK are required to wipe their feet in disinfectant. France, Cypress and New Zealand are among nations taking similar precautions. No word about the United States.

And joining us now by phone to talk more about infectious diseases in the global village, Dr. Phyllis Kozarsky joins us. She's with Emory University here in Atlanta.

Dr. Kozarsky we've just heard from these reports how this foot- and-mouth disease is having a wide effect on people's lives. Tell us more about it and how easily spread this disease is.

DR. PHYLLIS KOZARSKY, EMORY UNIVERSITY: Well, I think that we have to pay attention to what's been said already, and that is, number one, there's no reason for panic right now among the human population with regard to infection, that it rarely infects an individual; and that in these hoofed animals, they often can get vessicles and ulcers that are major problems for the agricultural industry.

So I think that, with regard to travelers from the United States going to Britain, that, for the most part, we're not overly concerned about our travelers right now.

ALLEN: What about hoof-and-mouth? And a lot of people have heard about mad cow disease from the UK, and now they're hearing about hoof-and-mouth. How do these two diseases differ? And why does it seem to be just this one area where we hear problems?

KOZARSKY: Well, first of all, I think that there's a great deal of focus, certainly, on the European continent right now and on Great Britain with regard to illnesses such as mad cow. And that's why we probably become -- tend to become a little bit more historical about the foot-and-mouth issue, and affecting Americans as well.

I think if we look to mad cow and try to be rational about that, that's the most important thing. There are certainly many, many travelers planning, as we enter the travel season, going to Great Britain, and there shouldn't be major concern about that. If we look at statistics, as we know of them now, we would say that the probability of an American traveler acquiring such an illness, such as BSE, is probably 1 in about 10 billion servings of cattle meat.

When people ask what they can do to decrease their risks, there are a number of things they could do. Number one, they can refrain from eating beef. Number two, if they are big beef eaters, that they can focus on eating something like solid muscle, like a steak rather than ordering things like burgers and sausages that can have mixtures of meat and potentially, maybe, contaminated with neurologic tissue that we're concerned about. There should be no concern about eating or drinking dairy products. So I think just being cautious and being wise about choices is the most important thing.

And as the other individuals have stated, that some of these decisions being made now in Great Britain about animal events are being made just to be very, very overly cautious right now.

ALLEN: Right, they're being very wise. And we thank you for that information. Dr. Kozarsky, Phyllis Kozarsky with Emory, thanks.

And don't worry. We've shown that disinfecting your shoe video I think plenty now. We won't be showing that anymore, hopefully.

WATERS: It's unusual to see, though.

ALLEN: It is.

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