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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Oct. 8)

All Headlines 07:01 October 08, 2019

Spread of swine fever
North Korea should accept talks on joint disinfection efforts

Over 145,000 pigs have been culled in South Korea since the country's first-ever outbreak of African swine fever (ASF) that started on a farm in Paju near North Korea, Sept. 17.

The government is making all-out efforts to prevent the deadly disease from spreading to the southern parts of the country.

A suspected case was reported last week in Boryeong, South Chungcheong Province, but fortunately it turned out to be negative. Otherwise, it would have been a disaster. South Korea has a pig population of about 12 million, and the culled pigs account for a mere 1 percent of it.

It is too early to determine whether the disease affected only regions close to North Korea, so no effort should be spared to continue its early containment.

So far, the government has confirmed 13 ASF cases in Paju, Yeoncheon and Gimpo along the border with North Korea. The authorities have slaughtered all pigs within a 3-kilometer radius of each infected farm in the three areas after purchasing them.

But culling and safety measures at farms are not enough to prevent the spread of the disease, which can also be transmitted via wild boars. The country mobilized the military to disinfect border areas only after the virus was detected in a dead boar found inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) near Yeoncheon, Oct. 2. Since then, the government has conducted aerial dusting and spraying using helicopters in the forests along the southern parts of the DMZ in collaboration with the military. The operation was only possible after getting permission from the United Nations Command.

Given the disease is highly contagious, but there are neither vaccines nor cures, the government should have taken such preventive measures along the DMZ earlier because North Korea had already reported its first discovery of the disease in May. It is natural to assume the disease traveled to South Korea via the North.

But it is better late than never. So far, all suspected cases reported in regions other than the border areas have tested negative. All available measures should be taken to prevent the disease from spreading nationwide.

What is regrettable is that North Korea has been unresponsive to the South's proposal to carry out joint disinfection operations along the inter-Korean border. Almost nothing is known about how serious the problem is in North Korea.

According to the World Organization for Animal Health, the first ASF outbreak in North Korea was reported in Chagang Province near China. It is presumed that the disease has spread nationwide in the North. Pyongyang should accept the offer for inter-Korean talks and tackle the disease jointly with Seoul.

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