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The BBC's Virginia Eastman in York
"It's feared that trade from abroad will be the biggest looser this year"
 real 56k

The BBC's Chris Hogg in Cumbria
looks at how tourism has been affected
 real 28k

Environment Minister Michael meacher MP
"There are wild and hysterical rumours circulating in many parts of America"
 real 28k

The BBC's Nick Robinson
"A heavy price has already been paid"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 28 March, 2001, 15:38 GMT 16:38 UK
Blair urges return to countryside
Rural roadside guest house / pub
Under threat: rural businesses are under pressure
Tony Blair has urged the UK public to visit the countryside to show the world that foot-and-mouth disease has not put Britain out of bounds.

The prime minister told the British Chambers of Commerce annual conference on Wednesday that he recognised the serious threat the outbreak posed to the tourism industry.


All of us have got to get over the message at home and abroad that Britain is indeed open for business.

Tony Blair
Prime Minister
Later, challenged by Conservative leader William Hague over the government's handling of the crisis, Mr Blair admitted it was impossible to predict when it would be over.

Ministers have tried to get across the message that the UK is "open for business" - but visitors continue to stay away.

Rural tourism - worth 12bn a year in England alone - is already losing an estimated 100m a week and faces a nightmare Easter season.

'Tragic plight'

Mr Blair described the plight being suffered by many rural businesses as "tragic" and said the government would do all it could to help the industry.

"What they need most of all is not actually government help alone but tourism itself - custom, trade, business that allows them to bring in money and make a profit again," he said.

Tony Blair
Mr Blair is reported to have asked ministers to take holiday breaks in Britain

"And that will only come if we get on top of the disease and if people here and indeed abroad start to return to normal behaviour patterns."

The prime minister said farming was being "devastated" by the disease but he had heard "heart-rending" accounts from other rural businesses.

'No effort spared'

"No resource, no effort, no time is being spared in controlling and eradicating the disease," he pledged.

There was no trace of the disease in most of the UK and only isolated cases in many other areas, said Mr Blair.

But he continued: "The way this had been presented on television abroad, as if the whole country was out of bounds, is leading to cancellations in certain areas that are totally unnecessary."

Lakeland sheep
Tourism in the Lake District has suffered

Footpaths were closed in many parts on the country when the outbreak began last month.

Mr Blair urged local councils to take a "common sense view" of restrictions especially in areas which were disease-free and where they was no livestock.

He added: "All of us have got to get over the message at home and abroad that Britain is indeed open for business. "The message is clear: go and visit the countryside but stay off the farmland."

Business leaders said they were encouraged by the speech.

Image important

John Cridland, deputy director general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said the UK's image abroad was important when companies considered whether to invest in the country.

"There is a feeling of a siege mentality at the moment and we have to make sure there is a balanced picture given, making clear that Britain is open for business."

That will be the message CBI director general Digby Jones will take to US business leaders when he visits Washington later this week.

The Mirror newspaper says Mr Blair has asked ministers to spend bank holiday breaks in Britain rather than jetting abroad.

New evidence

At Commons question time he revealed there was evidence of 1.35m sheep movements in February before the outbreak was known about - far more than previously thought.

Mr Blair continued: "It is important to realise that there will be certain parts of the country, Cumbria very obviously, where it is extremely difficult to tackle this disease by the means originally contemplated."

That was why the government was considering vaccination, although details of any programme will only be released after consultation with farmers' leaders.

Mr Hague said not enough was being done to curtail the disease, claiming there was "a serious lack of resources on the frontline in certain areas".

Asked to say when the outbreak would be under control, Mr Blair replied that ministers "cannot be sure".

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