Indonesia Grapples with Foot and Mouth Outbreak as Aussies Remain in Fear

By Hari Yellina
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A vet warns that holidaymakers returning from Bali run the risk of bringing back a deadly animal sickness that may decimate Australia’s cattle sectors. Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is an illness that causes cattle, sheep, pigs, and goats in Indonesia. Thousands of cattle are thought to be afflicted in East Java and Aceh provinces, but the disease, which is one of the worst for animals, may have already spread. During Lebaran, a national holiday in Indonesia, many Indonesians travel the country. Ross Ainsworth has spent decades working as a veterinarian in northern Australia and is now located in Bali.

“There were big numbers of individuals from Surabaya and other parts of Java who drove their cars here during the national holidays just last week,” he claimed. Dr. Ainsworth believes that if FMD is discovered in Bali, the likelihood of Australian tourists coming into contact with sick animals is very high. “It would be quite easy for tourists to come encounter cattle,” he added, adding that “there is opportunity for tourists to become contaminated just by roaming around tourist sites.” “If they return home with infectious stuff, such as saliva on their shoes, they risk the sickness spreading to Australia, which is rather frightening.”

According to the Cattle Council, an FMD pandemic in Australia could cost the livestock industry $100 billion. Dr. Ainsworth feels that last month’s flights from Bali to Darwin represent the greatest risk because FMD can only live for a short time outside of a host animal, and the voyage only takes around three hours. For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, direct flights from Sydney, Melbourne, Darwin, and Perth have returned to Denpasar. If Australian tourism to Bali returned to its pre-COVID norm of 1.3 million people per year, veteran meat industry analyst Simon Quilty agreed that the risk of Australian tourists carrying the disease back to Australia would be serious.

He stated, “We don’t want an FMD highway built here between our big airports and Bali.” Bali has approximately 2.5 million cattle and 900,000 piglets. Infected pigs, according to Mr Quilty, are of special concern. “Pigs generate millions of spores that transmit the infection and turn into viral factories,” he explained. FMD is thought to have arrived in Indonesia via smuggled goats from Malaysia. The Meat Price Index of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization reached a new high in April after rising by 16 percent in the previous year. Mr Quilty explained, “With that comes desperation.” There’s no doubt that there were sickly animals in a surrounding country – at this stage it looks like it was Malaysia – that obviously have been sold into a market at a discount [where people are] desperate for cheaper protein.


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