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Friday, 31 August, 2001, 21:33 GMT 22:33 UK
Army joins foot-and-mouth battle
Soliders will join efforts to contain the disease
The army is being called in to help the fight against foot-and-mouth disease in Northumberland after a further three cases were confirmed.

News of the fresh outbreak in the Hexham area has come as a major blow to farmers after two days in which no new cases were reported in the county.

One of the infected farms, Greystone Farm near Newbrough, is outside the "blue box" restricted area currently covering around 400 square miles of the Allendale Valley.

It means the biosecurity zone will now have to be extended to prevent any further spread of the disease. So far 16 cases have been reported.

Disease statistics
Cases so far: 1,994
Animals slaughtered: 3,778,000
Awaiting slaughter: 15,000

Food minister Lord Whitty spent Friday visiting the disease control centre in Newcastle where the operation is being co-ordinated.

He said the latest news was a serious setback and the government was expecting more cases.

"It is clear that in some cases the disease has been here for two to three weeks. That does indicate there probably has been a significant spread already within the valley."

The minister said around 25,000 sheep and 4,500 cattle had been or will be culled.

He added: "The real danger at this stage of the disease is if a spark goes from here into other areas.

"It is absolutely essential to control all movements of vehicles, personnel and animals."

'Major blow'

Divisional veterinary manager Arthur Griffiths said: "This is extremely disappointing news which will mean a considerable extension of the infected area and blue box restrictions."

Soldiers and slaughtermen now face the task of culling and disposing of 280 cattle at Elrington Hall farm, 211 cattle and 1,419 sheep at Low Eshells and 383 cattle and 1,038 sheep at Greystone.

Thirty soldiers, from the 101 Northumbrian Royal Artillery Volunteer Regiment, will be deployed over the weekend to help oversee the process.

The logistics operation will be led by Lieutenant Colonel Gary Donaldson.

Emergency visit

Shadow Defra secretary Tim Yeo welcomed the input the soldiers would give to the fight against the disease.

The Conservative MP for Suffolk South said: "The decision to bring in the army suggests that this outbreak is more serious than the government would admit.

"We welcome this action but hope it will be just part of a more effective strategy to halt the further spread of the disease.

"Meanwhile the confusion over vaccination urgently needs clearing up."

The BBC's Richard Wells
"The authorities admit they are struggling to cope"
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