Lunar New Year is approaching: let’s not forget ASF in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic

Travel safely to stop the spread of diseases. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted our lives, and the global economy, another disease—the African swine fever (ASF), a deadly virus to pigs is equally threatening animal health and welfare, livelihoods, food security, as well as international trade. The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) calls on all actors in Asia to remain vigilant to stop the spread of diseases as domestic travel commences for the Lunar New Year.

Tokyo (Japan), 11 February 2021—The Lunar New Year is here again. But this time, it is not the usual. COVID-19 has impacted all of our lives, and so it has for people who planned to travel for this year’s traditional celebrations. While governments in Asia have tightened restrictions on international travelling; domestic travel is still foreseen. Therefore, the risk of spread of diseases such as COVID-19 and African swine fever (ASF), a contagious virus that affects pigs, remains high. This is because travelling connects any two points and can disseminate infectious diseases leading to harmful consequences at different levels of society.

ASF, a deadly and incurable disease to both domestic and wild pigs, has been reported by at least 50 countries since 2018 across Africa, much of Asia and part of Europe (OIE World Animal Health Information System) resulting in the considerable loss of pig populations and threatening the sustainability of the global food supply chain. The disease is harmless to humans but fatal to animals, affecting economies and global pig production. Considering that pork is a preferred source of animal protein in many parts of East and Southeast Asia, this disease does not only impact the livelihoods of small- and large-scale pig producers but generally threatens global food security. Only in Asia, reports from the OIE World Animal Health Information System (WAHIS) show over 6 million of animal losses due to this disease.

As the global leader in the protection of animal health and welfare, the OIE calls on countries to reduce the risk of ASF spread during the upcoming travel rush by strengthening public awareness.

Considering that different key actors could be involved in the direct and indirect dissemination of ASF, the OIE recommends that awareness campaigns target a broad range of audiences. It is essential that travellers avoid carrying pig products from high-risk areas and declare them to the appropriate authorities if any. To this end, local government and customs offices should invest in outreach and educational programmes targeting domestic travellers, as well as strengthen the border controls at the transportation stations or hubs.

Farmers, hunters and veterinary services should also work together to strengthen biosecurity measures, remain vigilant, investigate any suspicions and report outbreaks to the OIE.

During the Lunar New Year celebrations, as the OIE recognises governments’ ongoing efforts to minimise the spread of COVID-19, we also entreat all actors to make meaningful efforts to limit the spread of ASF, the devastating pig disease.

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