International competition halted owing to ‘rapid evolution’ of EHV-1 outbreak

  • International competition has been cancelled in 10 European countries with immediate effect owing to the “rapid evolution of a very aggressive” strain of equine herpes.

    The FEI announced last night (1 March) that owing to the outbreak of the neurological form of EHV-1 which originated in Valencia, competition was off in France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Italy, Austria, Poland, the Netherlands, Germany and Slovakia, until 28 March.

    “This decision applies to all FEI disciplines, but in order to prevent huge numbers of horses simultaneously departing the jumping tours on the Iberian Peninsula, in Italy and Belgium that have been ongoing for a number of weeks, these specific tours will be allowed to continue as individual “bubbles” on the condition that absolutely no new horses are allowed to enter the venues and no positive cases of EHV-1 are confirmed,” said an FEI spokesman.

    “The jumping tour venues in Vejer de la Frontera, Spain, Vilamoura, Portugal, San Giovanni in Marignano and and Gorla Minore, Italy, will have stringent biosecurity protocols in place and additional FEI veterinary delegates onsite. Horses will only be permitted to leave these venues when they are in possession of an official health certificate from the local veterinary authorities.”

    The spokesman added that any horses leaving these venues without this documentation will be blocked on the FEI database. It is also illegal to transport a horse without an official health certificate.

    The organisers of the Met Tour in Oliva Nova, Spain, and Opglabbeek, Belgium, announced yesterday their March events were off, and a number of countries including France had already cancelled their events to minimise the transmission of the virus.

    “This was not an easy decision to block events in mainland Europe, particularly after the major disruption to the FEI calendar caused by the Covid-19 pandemic”, said FEI secretary general Sabrina Ibáñez. “But this EHV-1 outbreak is probably the most serious we have had in Europe for many decades and our decision is based on clearly identified epidemiological risk factors.

    “This strain of EHV-1 is particularly aggressive and has already caused equine fatalities and a very large number of severe clinical cases. We need to keep our horses safe.”

    Yesterday the FEI confirmed four horses had died in Valencia, 84 horses at the venue were showing clinical signs and are being treated, and 11 are being treated in external clinics in Valencia and Barcelona.

    Continued below…

    “Cancelling these competitions in mainland Europe, with the exception of the ongoing jumping tours in the Iberian Peninsula and Italy, limits the number of horses travelling internationally and therefore reduces the likelihood of this very serious virus being transmitted on an increasingly wider scale. We also strongly recommend that the affected member federations should also cancel their national events,” said Ms Ibáñez.

    “We are very conscious of the fact that this is a very stressful and distressing time, and that this is potentially hugely disruptive for those athletes aiming for their minimum eligibility requirements (MERs) or confirmation results for Tokyo, but we are looking at ways to alleviate that in order to assist athlete/horse combinations in getting their MERs or confirmation results once the events in mainland Europe are allowed to resume.”

    The spokesman added the FEI is conscious that some athletes have already arrived at competition venues or are en route, and the organisation is directly contacting all impacted athletes entered in events between now and 28 March.

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