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Is swine fever slowing down in China?

Chinese authorities report that the spread of African swine fever (ASF) has slowed down and is now under control, but new outbreaks continue to emerge on a daily basis.

9 April 2019, at 12:40p.m.

A new report, titled The real situation of African swine fever in China, was released this week, detailing the number of outbreaks of ASF in China and where they have occurred; how the virus has impacted production since the first outbreak in 2018; and the response that China has taken to control the disease.

There is no doubt that China's pork industry has been struck hard by the highly contagious virus: according to the statistics reported by China Global Television Network (CGTN), China's pig herd has been depleted drastically, falling by almost seven percent since September 2018.

China has responded to the outbreaks with designated infection zones: the infected zone (or epicentre) with a +3km radius; and the threatened area with a +10km radius. Activities within these zones are restricted and specific steps are taken from the moment the disease is identified, to the day the farm is confirmed to be clear of the virus.

As well as restrictive measures, such as the culling of pigs on an infected farm and the ban on the movement of pigs into or out of infected zones, support has also been offered to affected farms and producers whose livelihood has been impacted. The latest report from CGTN states that much fewer cases have been reported in Q1 2019 when compared to Q4 2018, and that authorities have confirmed the disease "is now under control".

China's response to the disease has, without doubt, aided with slowing the spread of the virus, but new cases continue to emerge each week so is China really in control?

Reuters reported on Monday (8 April), that Chinese authorities had confirmed a new outbreak of ASF in the Xinjiang region. The outbreak in Yecheng county in the northwestern province killed 39 animals on a farm of 341 pigs. In the last week, new cases have also been reported in Yunnan, Cambodia and Tibet, with hundreds of pigs needing to be slaughtered.

Yang Hanchun, a professor at China Agricultural University, says that authorities have contained the spread but that "the epidemic may still continue to appear". The virus is persistent and can reside in the environment, in feed and in transport so new cases of the disease could continue to emerge for months to come. Only time will tell when it comes to the true impact of ASF on China's pork industry.