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Programme highlights Friday, 23 March, 2001, 15:56 GMT
Foot-and-mouth will worsen
Animals are burned on Friday in attempts to control foot-and-mouth
Scenes like this will become more familiar

The prime minister has admitted in an off-the-cuff remark that he has ten days in which to decide whether the foot-and-mouth outbreak is so serious that he may have to abandon his long-nurtured plans to go to the country on May 3.

We should now move to a situation as rapidly as we can of bringing in a report to slaughter time of 24 hours

The Government's Chief Scientist David King

Mr Blair was caught by a microphone talking to the EU President Romano Prodi at the Stockholm summit - Mr Prodi asked him how long he had before he had to decide, and Mr Blair replied "I've got ten days".

It seems the Government is becoming daily more aware of just how drastic the situation may become.

New reports by epidemiologists warn of the danger of a "very large epidemic", and in Stockholm, Mr Blair's official spokesman said they painted a "very, very serious picture".

France and Finland have both offered veterinary help to control the spread of the disease in Britain.

Jim Walker of the Scottish NFU has said that unless foot-and-mouth is eliminated from Cumbria, Scotland should consider closing border with England to protect Scottish farmers from the disease.

Scientists warn of more to come

This epidemic is indeed out of control and therefore we have to consider other options

Prof Mark Woolhouse

Three official reports prepared by scientists for the Ministry of Agriculture warned today that cases could rise to the level of 70 a day over the next two weeks with more than 4,000 cases being recorded by June.

And unless there is "further drastic action" to bring the epidemic under control, foot-and-mouth disease "will become established in Britain".

So just how bad could it get? The World at One spoke to the author of one of today's gloomy reports, Professor Mark Woolhouse, of the Veterinary Epidemiology Department at the University of Edinburgh.

He told us that the virus was doubling in size every 1 to 2 weeks and that the scale of the outbreak was expected to get worse - the most optimistic prognosis being several hundred more cases of foot-and-mouth over several weeks or months.

Professor Woolhouse said that intervals between animals becoming infected and their slaughter was a major factor in the spread of the disease; reducing the interval between diagnosis and slaughter by as little as one or two days would make a significant difference to infection rates.

We did approach the Ministry of Agriculture this morning to speak about those new expert reports - no one was available - but a spokesman told us that vaccination "is not something we are prepared to do at the moment however it is an option that we are preparing for as a contingency plan. We are looking at the recommendations made by the epidemiology reports and will respond when we have had time to consider them."


The World at One spoke to Conservative Agriculture spokesman, Tim Yeo, who told us that the government had not acted with sufficient urgency to control the crisis.

Conservative Agriculture Spokesman, Tim Yeo
More urgent response needed

He suggested that slaughtermen should be sent out with vets to reduce the delay between diagnosis and slaughter, that resources such as the army should be used more effectively, and that political reasons had meant the government had refused to acknowledge the scale of the problem.

Mr Yeo admitted that vaccination might be a last resort if the outbreak was not got under control.

The Government's Chief Scientist David King told us that if it was possible to reduce the gap between identification and slaughter of diseased animals to 24 hours, the disease could be brought under control. He also emphasised that if a 3 kilometre "firewall" around infected farms could be enforced, the situation would be much improved.

Below is a list of useful websites relating to the foot-and-mouth epidemic:

The latest on the disease

Access to the countryside

Prof Mark Woolhouse, University of Edinburgh
"This is going to get a lot worse before it gets better"
Click here to listen to Tim Yeo and David King
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