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Foot-and-Mouth Ebbs in Britain

Britain’s chief scientist said yesterday the epidemic was “fully under control” as the average number of new cases dropped nearly 50 percent since the end of March, from 43 to 23 per day.

Nearly 1,400 cases of the livestock disease have been confirmed in Britain since February, triggering wholesale slaughter of infected and at-risk animals. Restrictions on movement of humans and animals remain in place, but slaughter and inspection requirements were loosened yesterday for the first time in Northamptonshire and Leicestershire.

Two farms in those counties are no longer considered “infected areas,” officials said. It was the first lifting of restrictions since the outbreak began in February.

Northamptonshire, 65 miles northwest of London, had only one confirmed case of foot-and-mouth disease. The government lifted restrictions at that farm and at one of four infected farms in Leicestershire, 100 miles north of London.

Still, Chief Scientist David King said restrictions would remain in place elsewhere until the epidemic was fully eliminated. “Restricting the movement of people and animals is crucial to the containment of the disease,” he said.

The British government is also in talks with the National Farmers’ Union about whether to institute a limited vaccination program for the hardest-hit areas. Vaccinating is controversial because it masks the presence of the disease in tests and inoculated animals can potentially carry the disease. Other nations often will not accept meat and animal imports from countries that vaccinate. British beef could be kept out of export markets for two years.

Foot-and-mouth disease is harmless to humans but debilitating to animals, leading to weight loss and reduced milk production. In Britain, 1.2 million animals have been slaughtered and the National Farmers’ Union estimates farmers are losing $360 million a month. A business group reckons the epidemic and containment restrictions have rippled through the economy, damaging tourism especially. The epidemic may have already cost the British economy $30 billion.

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