(ATTN: UPDATES with suspected case of disease in paras 11-13)
By Kim Kwang-tae
SEJONG/SEOUL, Sept. 17 (Yonhap) -- South Korea was on alert Tuesday to prevent the spread of African swine fever after the first case of the animal disease was confirmed near the border with North Korea.
The agriculture ministry announced the beginning of operations to slaughter some 4,000 pigs as a precautionary step.
Kim Hyeon-soo, minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs, said quarantine officials are set to complete the culling of the pigs at three farms, including the one where the disease was detected, in Paju, just south of the inter-Korean border, by Tuesday.
"We will make our efforts to prevent the spread of African swine fever," Kim said in a news conference at a government building in Sejong, an administrative hub located 130 kilometers southeast of Seoul.
President Moon Jae-in ordered relevant authorities to take swift steps to combat the disease here.
"In the morning, the president discussed the issue and gave instructions on thoroughly curbing the spread (of the disease) at an early phase," Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson, Ko Min-jung, told reporters.
South Korea confirmed the case of the highly contagious virus at the farm where five pigs died Monday.
The two other farms are located about 20 kilometers from the one where the disease was detected.
South Korea launched an epidemiological investigation to try to determine the exact cause of the outbreak of the highly contagious virus, Kim said.
The owner of the farm where the disease broke out did not use leftover food. The farm has no windows, and it has set up fences to prevent possible contact between his pigs and wild boars. The owner of the farm has never visited a foreign country, according to Kim.
Later in the day, a pig farm in Yeoncheon reported a suspected case of African swine fever, the ministry said. The county near the border with North Korea is located about 48 kilometers away from Paju, where the disease broke out.
The farm, which is raising some 2,000 pigs, reported that one of its pigs died for an unknown reason in the afternoon. An examination is being carried out to determine whether the pig was infected, the ministry said.
Around 8,500 pigs are being raised by other farms within a 3-kilometer radius of the Yeoncheon farm.
South Korea said it will disinfect some 6,300 pig farms across the country and check conditions of pigs. The ministry did not disclose details on how many pig farms are located near the border with North Korea.
The first confirmed case in South Korea came about four months after North Korea reported its first confirmed case of the disease at a farm near its border with China to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).
North Korean media outlets have reported nationwide preventive efforts on the disease, though they have yet to confirm any additional cases. The North has not responded to Seoul's offer for cooperation to stem the spread of the disease across the border.
An official of the unification ministry handling inter-Korean affairs said that it will wait until the results of the ongoing probe into how and in what route the disease broke out here come out before trying to contact the North for possible cooperation.
Since its outbreak in China in August last year, the disease has spread to neighboring countries, including Mongolia and Vietnam.
South Korea imposed a nationwide standstill on all pig farms, slaughter houses and feed factories for 48 hours, beginning at 6:30 a.m.
This means any animal, people or equipment may not be removed from farms for the duration, while those already en route to other farms or related facilities must find a secure place to sit out the temporary lockdown, the ministry said.
The animal disease does not affect humans but is deadly to pigs. There are currently no vaccines nor cures for the disease.
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