Quarantine officials wearing protective gear stand as a precaution against African swine fever at a pig farm in Paju, the Republic of Korea, Sept 17, 2019. (AHN YOUNG-JOON / AP)
SEOUL — The Republic of Korea (ROK) said Friday that it is investigating more suspected cases of African swine fever from farms near its border with The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), as fears grow over the spread of the illness that has decimated pig herds across Asia.
ROK's Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the Gyeonggi provincial government said officials are testing samples of three dead pigs from two farms in Paju, a city where the country's first case of the disease was confirmed on 16 Sept, 2019. Test results were expected to come out Friday night.
The two Paju farms, which raise more than 7,000 pigs combined, were also within 10 kilometers of a farm in the nearby town of Yeoncheon, where a second case of the disease was confirmed Tuesday, said Park Byeong-hong, an agriculture ministry official.
We dispatched quarantine officials to the farms to prevent the movement of people, animals and vehicles and to disinfect facilities
Park Byeong-hong, Agriculture ministry official, The Republic of Korea
ALSO READ: Farmers fret over swine disease outbreaks
"We dispatched quarantine officials to the farms to prevent the movement of people, animals and vehicles and to disinfect facilities," Park said in a news conference in Sejong City. "If the cases are confirmed as African swine fever, we will immediately conduct quarantine measures required under our standard procedure, such as urgent culling operations."
African swine fever is harmless to humans but highly contagious and fatal for pigs as there is no known cure.
ROK’s workers had culled some 10,400 pigs at border area farms as of Friday morning and were in process of killing and burying about 5,000 more, the agriculture ministry said.
The ministry said quarantine officials were carrying out blood tests of pigs at some 100 farms within 10 kilometers of the infected farms in Paju and Yeoncheon, and that samples from 56 farms had come back negative.
About 6,300 farms in ROK raise more than 11 million pigs. ROK’s officials have said the next three weeks would be crucial for fighting the outbreak, considering the disease's incubation periods.
Officials have stepped up efforts to disinfect farms and vehicles. They imposed temporary bans on farms near the border from transporting their pigs to other areas and began inspections of some 200 slaughter houses, feed factories and artificial insemination facilities that deal with large numbers of pig farms across the country.
More traps and nets will be installed to capture wild boars that roam in and out of DPRK, which some experts see as a potential source of the outbreak in ROK. ROK’s Defense Ministry has dispatched soldiers to support quarantine efforts and monitor areas along a river that flows through the border between the ROK and DPRK, searching for wild boars that may swim across from the DPRK.
"It's crucial to strictly restrict the movement of people, cars and animals and also prevent (pigs) from contact with wild boars," Park said.
DPRK in recent months has virtually scrapped all diplomatic activity and cooperation with ROK amid a standstill in nuclear negotiations with the United States, complicating efforts at preventing the DPRK’s outbreak from spreading to areas near the border.
ROK's Unification Ministry, which deals with affairs with the DPRK, said Friday that Pyongyang is continuing to ignore Seoul's calls for joint quarantine efforts to fight the disease.
HONG KONG NEWS