Pols banned from outbreak areas

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Pols banned from outbreak areas

Political candidates running for office in the June 2 regional elections will be banned from entering areas within three kilometers (1.8 miles) of farms that have recently experienced foot-and-mouth disease, Korea’s Agriculture Ministry warned yesterday.

The ministry has been scrambling to contain the latest outbreak that erupted in April, and has so far led to the slaughter of more than 48,700 animals across the nation. Compensation to the affected farms is threatening to reach the 53.1 billion won ($46.9 million) level seen in the 2002 outbreak.

The government has kept the foot-and-mouth alert at red, the highest level in its four-tier system, since last month.

To help contain the spread of the contagious cattle disease, the Agriculture Ministry said yesterday it has asked local governments to ban candidates from entering the disputed areas. That means political candidates running in the Gangwha Island and Gimpo areas in Gyeonggi and several counties in South and North Chung-cheong provinces will be barred from entering some electoral areas.

The rule applies not only to the candidates themselves, but also to campaign volunteers and cars used for street campaigns. In addition, all voting places across the country will be equipped with hand sanitizing machines and shoe sanitizing mats.

Since the outbreak began on April 8, quarantine authorities have feared that increasingly warmer weather, more travels and more public gatherings for political campaigns may exacerbate what is already threatening to become the worst foot-and-mouth outbreak ever here.

The ministry has opened roadside checkpoints in areas crowded with livestock farms to sanitize passing cars and their passengers until June 2. It has also urged veterinarians and slaughterhouse and animal feed plant employees not to travel out of cities and provinces where they work.

“This is the most critical time to weed out the current outbreak,” Ha Young-je, the Vice Agriculture Minister, said in a briefing yesterday. “But travel by people and cars are increasing ahead of the regional election, so we’ve decided to beef up the cordoning efforts.”

Eleven cases of foot-and-mouth disease have been confirmed since early April. The outbreak originated on Gangwha Island on the west coast, but has spread to mainland areas including North and South Chungcheong provinces.

The overall financial damage, including compensation for affected farms and other costs, is expected to reach 260 billion won. Government officials fear the number may climb as high as the record 300.6 billion won set in 2000 if the outbreak is not held in check.

By Jung Ha-won [hawon@joongang.co.kr]
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