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UK says virus 'fully under control'

English lamb
The goverment is still considering a limited vaccination programme  

LONDON, England -- The UK's foot-and-mouth epidemic is "fully under control," the government's chief scientist has said.

However, the strict controls on livestock and people movement still need to be maintained as it could be a "bumpy ride" until the disease is eradicated, Professor David King told reporters on Thursday.

At the end of March the daily tally stood at an average of 43 new cases a day, while that had fallen to 27 by last Sunday.

"On the basis of the fall in the number of cases being reported, the epidemic now is fully under control," King said.

"As the epidemic comes under control it becomes more imperative that the controls remain. Restricting the movement of people and animals is crucial to the containment of the disease. We have to keep very, very vigilant."

With nearly 1,400 confirmed cases -- and the tally rising daily -- the government maintains its policy of culling all animals on farms adjacent to infected properties is the best way to beat the disease.

A total of 1.2 million animals have already been slaughtered -- of which 400,000 remain to be disposed of -- and another 575,000 await culling.

The National Farmers' Union held talks with the government about whether to begin a limited vaccination programme in the worst-hit areas before animals are put out to spring pasture.

The NFU worries that vaccinating could shut Britain out of export markets for up to two years, as other countries will not accept meat and animals from a vaccinating country.

Critics also argue that vaccination is not 100 percent effective, as innoculated animals can still carry the disease.

In the southwestern English county of Devon, one of the worst hit areas, vets questioned the government's policy of culling all cattle along with sheep on adjacent farms, saying sheep should be targeted because they are more difficult to diagnose.

"We feel they could divert the resources more profitably and more efficiently by concentrating on culling a two-kilometre (1.2 miles) zone free of sheep around an infected premises," vet Roger Cunningham told the Associated Press.

Cunningham, who has written to the government expressing his concerns, said unlike cattle, sheep often did not show any symptoms of the disease even if they were carrying it, making it difficult to diagnose.

An opposition politician, Conservative shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo, told the Press Association: "We hope very much that Prof King turns out to be right.

"However, if you are a farmer with some of the 570,000 animals currently awaiting slaughter on your farm, you may doubt whether the crisis is yet under control.

"Over 300,000 of those animals, many of them infected, have been awaiting slaughter for more than a week.

"This shows how far the Government is from reaching its own target of 24 hours from report to slaughter."

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Foot-and-Mouth Disease

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