Six new foot and mouth outbreaks were confirmed yesterday, affecting four counties previously free of the disease, as disruption to normal life in Britain worsened.
All race meetings were abandoned for a week and the rugby union international between Wales and Ireland on Saturday was cancelled. Emergency orders were rushed through parliament to give councils the power to ban the use of footpaths and public rights of way.
The minister of agriculture, Nick Brown, extended the ban on the movement of animals for a further two weeks from Friday as the disease spread into Wales for the first time and hundreds more checks were made on stock across the country. The number of confirmed cases now totals 18.
Britain extended the ban on movement of all livestock within the United Kingdom for two more weeks to try to contain an outbreak of foot and mouth disease, officials said February 27, 2001. A supermarket truck passes by the burning pile of livestock carcasses at Heddon On The Wall farm in Northumberland Feb. 26. (Jeff J Mitchell/Reuters)
But the selected movement of some cattle, pigs and sheep would be allowed direct to abattoirs from Friday, provided there was no mingling with other animals, to maintain supplies of meat in the shops and prevent welfare problems, Mr Brown said. The army, which has its own vets, has volunteered to supervise the movements.
The government also decided to give the beef, sheep and dairy industry £170m extra compensation for losses caused by the disaster, in addition to 100% payments for slaughtered animals. Pig breeders will receive £40m in payments - which will buy them out and reduce the size of the industry.
Mr Brown called the outbreak "a national tragedy".
As the air of crisis deepened, Tony Blair chaired a meeting of ministers from most Whitehall departments. In a webcast from No 10, Mr Blair admitted the gravity of the situation: "The funeral pyres of farm animals are the worst nightmare for the livestock farmers. And it is not just financial loss, massive as that is _ the heartbreak also comes from all the hard work and planning, often over many years."
Last night up to 1,000 workers in three food production plants in the north-east - at Preston, Cottingham and Carnaby - were laid off indefinitely or placed on short-time.
County councils were given the power to order the closure of footpaths in their jurisdiction.
A farmer in Anglesey, where an outbreak was confirmed yesterday, was stopped by police trying to move sheep by lorry at night.
The Jockey Club, under pressure from trainers who exercise their horses on farmland, abandoned all racing for a week but plans to resume in the hope of saving the Cheltenham festival, the showpiece of the National Hunt season,
due to begin in a fortnight. Ireland also suspended all horse and greyhound racing.
The decision to cancel Saturday's rugby international was taken after the Irish government expressed concern at the risk of Ireland supporters bringing the disease back with them from England and Wales.
In Brussels, the veterinary committee of the EU extended the ban on exports of all British meat and dairy products for a second week until March 7 - and said it would repeat the exercise next week if necessary.
Elsewhere in Europe, the slaughter of animals exported from Britain continued, with 20,000 sheep to be killed in France, 11,500 pigs, 2,400 sheep and 1,900 deer killed in the Netherlands and, in Germany, a further 1,600 sheep in addition to the 360 killed on Monday.
The six new outbreaks confirmed yesterday were in Anglesey, Lancashire, Northamptonshire, Devon and two in Durham.The lamb found to have the disease at the Welsh County Foods abattoir at Gaerwen, Anglesey, had been delivered from Yorkshire and vets were checking which flock it had come from.
Another new contact was at a farm at Wolsingham, Co Durham, where owner Peter Monkhouse said he had bought the infected sheep from Darlington market. Yesterday neither of these cases had links with previous centres of the disease.
The sheep that had developed foot and mouth at Ollerton farm, Withnell, Chorley, Lancashire, came from Hexham market, which was already linked to the Northumberland outbreak.
An infected lamb from Wootton market, Northamptonshire, was traced to the farm in Highampton, Devon, where more than 1,000 animals are already being slaughtered. A fifth case was confirmed last night from an abattoir at Witton le Wear, Co Durham. The day's sixth confirmed case was at an abattoir in Okehampton, Devon.
Jim Scudamore, the chief veterinary surgeon, said yesterday he was still hopeful that all the cases in Britain could be traced back to the original outbreak at Heddon-on-the-Wall in Northumberland.
"All these sheep cases, widely spread as they are, seem to be in the early stages of the disease. It is still possible that there is another source but we are still hopeful that all the foot and mouth can be traced back to where it we think it began in Northumberland."
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001