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Equestrian events are being cancelled and re-scheduled in Australia as more than 400 horses across New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland show symptoms of equine influenza. It is thought to be the country’s first ever outbreak of the highly contagious disease.

EFA president Geoff Sinclair said: “This is already affecting riders’ preparations for next year’s Olympic Games but the future of the sport as a whole is more important than Olympic medals right now.”

The Equestrian Federation of Australia (EFA) said it has been working closely with the NSW Department of Primary Industry (DPI) and the Australian Horse Industry Council to limit the spread of the disease.

The virus was initially discovered at Sydney’s Centennial Park stables before it spread to other locations. It is believed that breeding stallions who crossed from Japan a fortnight ago brought the disease into the country. A flu outbreak recently shut the Japanese breeding industry down for three weeks.

The government of NSW has extended indefinitely its ban on the movement of horses around the state, and race meetings have also been stopped.

The spread has also hit the NSW Mounted Police unit where eight horses have now contracted the virus. They had been scheduled to be deployed at next week’s summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in Sydney.

Critics of the government have called for an inquiry to ascertain whether flaws in the country’s quarantine system led to the outbreak.