Wednesday, 11 May 2005

Sluggardly foot and mouth reactions

Okay, I can buy that the Foot and Mouth scare on Waiheke Island is probably a hoax, but given the enormous economic impact if this sort of bio-terrorism were genuine, am I the only one slightly nonplussed at the urgency, or lack thereof, in containing any possible outbreak?

Reports suggest that the letter claiming a release was received yesterdy afternoon, and as of this moment (and as police investigations into the possoble perpetrator continue) only half of Waiheke's farm-owners have heard from MAF inspectors, quarantines have only just been point in place to contain any possibly infected farms, and Assistant Police Commissioner Peter Marshall is complaining that resources are being wasted in even these measures.

Waiheke ferries continue to come and go without being disturbed even by disinfection, but a policeman has been stationed at the ferry terminal. Perhaps he's going to arrest any suspicious virii he comes across?

I can understand trying to maintain calm, especially if it is indeed a hoax, but this virus spreads quicker than STDs at a navy port, and our trading partners will be looking to the way this alert is handled for guidance as to how a real alert will be handled, and even twelve hours after the warning letter was received very little had been done in the way of containment. Surely planning was in place for rapid reaction to a situation such as this?

Radio New Zealand reports that nine vets will be making their way to the island this morning, and given the incubation period of the virus were it genuine, no indications are likely for a few days, if not weeks.

At least our trading partners were given a swift heads-up, with - at this stage - only Mexico expressing anything other than the intention of keeping a watching brief. A cattle shipment presently en-route to Japan will reportedly give the first indication of how the warning is received on the ground.

Estimates of the economic impact of a real outbreak vary from $3.5 billion offered by Radio New Zealand's Don Carson this morning to the Reserve Bank's figure of $10 billion. See reports here and here. But even news of a hoax outbreak is likely to frighten some of our markets, as you'd expect it to, and the way this (hopefully) hoax is handled is a good measure of how a real outbreak would be handled.

Personally I would have expected more, and earlier.

[UPDATE (9:25am): Reports just in on RNZ that senior MAF vets were in fact on the island by 6pm last night to begin investigations and set up a base. Maybe there has been more action than there at first appeared to be? If so, good.]
[UPDATE (12:30pm): Suggestions from the police that the letter may be part of a capping stunt. I can remember when capping stunts used to be funny.]


  1. I suspect that the authorities knew right from the start it was a hoax. Technically there is very little chance apparently of anyone being able to deliberately transport live virus for any distance. So, I think the response was entirely appropriate in that its prime purpose was to satisfy our trading partners that we are 'on the case.' However, the identity of the perpetrator, well that is certainly another story.

  2. Adolph, you said: " I suspect that the authorities knew right from the start it was a hoax." Yes, I suspect you're right.

    In which case the actions taken were indeed entirely appropriate, and I've been over-hasty, rather than them not being so.

    "However, the identity of the perpetrator, well that is certainly another story." I look forward to seeing him/her in the dock.


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