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1970: Rabies ban on British pet imports
The British Government has announced an indefinite ban on the importation of domestic pets.

It follows the death from rabies of a dog called Sessan in Newmarket a week ago. The animal had been imported from Pakistan and released from quarantine on November 30.

British officials have become alarmed at the spread of the disease in Europe and because dogs like Sessan have begun showing signs of rabies after the existing eight month quarantine period.

Until recently scientists believed rabies had an incubation period of no more than three months.

From next week, all dogs and cats already in quarantine, will have to stay in captivity an extra four months.

There is to be an indefinite ban on the importation of any cats and dogs.

Nation of dog lovers

The new measures were announced by the Minister of Agriculture, Cledwyn Hughes.

He said a committee of inquiry would be set up to examine Britain's policy on rabies. The ban and extended quarantine will apply until the committee has reported.

He said: "I know we are a nation of dog lovers, so I greatly regret the hardship that will be caused to some, but our primary duty is to protect the public.

"I could not forgive myself if a child was bitten or any life put in danger through any neglect on our part. We are dealing with a killer disease."

At present, there are about 2,200 dogs and 600 cats in quarantine in Britain. Imports of dogs and cats are running at between 3,000 and 5,000 a year.

Last year, the Government raised the quarantine period from six to eight months after the case of a rabid dog in Surrey.

Scientists fear the rabies virus has developed a longer incubation period - and is also being spread by wild animals, such as foxes on the Continent.

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Rabies warning poster
British officials were alarmed at the spread of rabies

In Context
British quarantine laws were among the toughest in the world - although the 12 month quarantine period was later cut back to six.

Pressure for a change in the law mounted, as scientific advances made it possible to prove an animal was rabies-free.

The Pet Travel Scheme introduced in 2000 allowed domestic pets vaccinated against rabies and then fitted with a microchip, and blood-tested six months before travelling, to go abroad and return to Britain without going into quarantine.

The scheme initially applied to Europe, Australia and Japan. It is due to be extended to include pets entering the UK from the United States and Canada in 2003.

Animals not qualifying for the pet travel scheme still need to be quarantined for six months.

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