Exercise Gammalite - Commences Today

23 November 2021
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Exercise Gammalite Designed to Strengthen Emergency Disease Preparedness and Protect the Industry

In August 2007, Australia experienced an outbreak of equine influenza (EI), an exotic disease not previously present in Australia. On 25 December 2007 – the time of the last informed detection of the virus – more than 100,000 horses on over 8,000 properties had been reported infected.

In response to the emergency, Commonwealth, State, and Territory governments worked with the horse industry and horse-owners to eradicate the disease. On 30 June 2008, affected areas of the country were officially declared free of the virus. Australia is the only country in the world to have eradicated EI and proven scientifically that the disease is absent.

During that time, a report prepared by the Hon. Ian Callinan – Equine Influenza: the August 2007 outbreak in Australia (the Callinan Report) – estimated that governments had committed $268 million to individuals and businesses “whose primary source of income had been affected by the outbreak and the subsequent movement restrictions”. Subsequent estimates have put the response cost and subsequential losses far higher at $571m.

Since then, Harness Racing Australia (HRA) has signed the Commonwealth governments Emergency Disease Response Agreement (EADRA) along with the other peak equine bodies, Racing Australia (RA), Equestrian Australia (EA) and the Australian Horse Industry Council (AHIC), joining with most livestock industry’s who already enjoyed the comfort this brings.

EADRA provides reassurance for the industry via certainty, management functions and pre-agreed plans for disease emergency responses. EADRA also sets out the cost sharing arrangements and “mutual obligation” requirements upon industry to maintain the education and training of relevant personnel along with preparedness planning.

With 14 years having passed since the EI emergency response, biosecurity, health, and welfare responsibilities within the equine bodies, particularly the competition sectors, have been transformed, while simultaneously, much of the experience and depth of knowledge has been lost or is approaching retirement.

Given some recent alarms regarding African Horse Sickness (AHS) emerging in the Asian region, the HRA Executive determined that it was important to protect our industry from this and other incursions by initiating and funding an exercise scenario in collaboration with the other peak bodies of the Australian equine industry in order to build capability through a transfer of wisdom, improved networks and the development of emergency preparedness skills to successfully respond to future disease outbreaks.

Code named Exercise Gammalite, it will be a role play style discussion exercise that will be conducted across two days on 23 and 24 November 2021.

The exercise is based on a fictional outbreak of equine influenza in Victoria and New South Wales and aims to increase awareness of the roles and responsibilities of key horse industries and government stakeholders in an emergency animal disease response while also identifying areas for collaboration and coordination of the horse industry peak bodies in such an event.

HRA Chief Executive, Andrew Kelly, said that the 2007 EI outbreak had devastating consequences and disruption for our industry, some which are still felt today. The total industry loss identified by a PricewaterhouseCoopers study in 2009 was $23.8 million, plus other disruptions which were difficult to quantify.

“Of course, the hope is that there are no future disease incursions, but if there is, then we all need to be prepared to play our role and minimise the impacts we saw back in 2007. We felt and an exercise like this would assist all equine groups preparedness and knowledge, but unfortunately funding was an issue,” Kelly explained.

“However, with the amazing generosity and leadership of HRA Chair, Mr Graeme Campbell OAM, generously donating his annual honorarium to this exercise, we were able to commission AHA to coordinate the exercise on behalf of all equine industries and associated government departments.”

In keeping with contemporary restrictions applicable to interstate travel and gatherings, the exercise will be undertaken in a virtual environment and will involve around 80 representatives from across the horse industry that are signatories to the EADRA plus representatives from the Australian, state and territory governments.  Harness racing will be represented by relevant person including HRA Executive Members, State Controlling Body and senior staff.

“Just as important for this exercise is the collaboration, networking and exchange between equine sectors and the government. The benefits of a closer partnership and deeper understanding of our industry by government cannot be underestimated,” Kelly said.

About equine influenza

  • Equine influenza (EI) is an acute, highly contagious disease that can cause rapidly spreading outbreaks of respiratory disease in horses and other equine species (donkeys, mules, and zebras).
  • Australia had been free of EI until August 2007, when the disease was introduced with imported horses. EI was subsequently eradicated from Australia, with the last known case reported on 25 December 2007.
  • Australia and New Zealand are the only countries with significant equine industries that are free from EI without vaccination.
  • EI is a World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE)-listed disease that spreads rapidly in naïve horse populations and has the potential to cause illness and loss of performance. Rarely, it causes deaths in young foals and debilitated or old horses. It is important in the international movement of horses.
  • The 2007 outbreak of EI in Australia caused a significant social and economic impact through the disruption of employment in the racing and non-racing sectors of the horse industry.
  • If another outbreak of EI occurred in Australia, it would result in serious economic loss within the equine industry as a result of:
    • constraints placed in the movements and assembly of horses for an extended but unknown period
    • disruption to horse racing, breeding, recreation, and tourism
    • disruption to business continuity and wagering revenue
    • the costs of any vaccination program
    • high morbidity in a naïve population.
  • EI does not pose a risk to human health. While experimental infection with EI virus has produced mild influenza-like illness in humans, transmission of EI virus to humans under natural conditions of exposure has not been reported during numerous outbreaks in the United States or in Australia in 2007.

Managing an outbreak of equine influenza

  • Australia’s current policy for an outbreak of EI is to contain and then eradicate it through a range of strategies that include:
    • An immediate widespread standstill on horses
    • Quarantine and movement control of horses and other potentially contaminated items
    • Strategic use of vaccine with the capability to differentiate infected from vaccinated animals.

 

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