Vets at a premium for Games' equestrian events
The government may have to recruit extra vets to check the 280 horses taking part in the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Hong Kong for infectious diseases during and after the horses' quarantine period. One government official admitted Hong Kong currently lacked enough vets to do the job.
'We understand we lack vets in Hong Kong, but we hope that we will be able to deploy people, given our present work pressure. Later on, we will assess the situation again,' said Eddy Chan Yuk-tak, deputy secretary of health, welfare and food.
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, which supplies government vets to various departments and bureaus, said it would 'review the manpower situation as the events draw closer'.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club, which is spending $800 million to stage the Games' equestrian events, said it might lend its own vets to help out but only if asked and if they met the requirements of the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI).
Horses will be held in quarantine overseas for seven days before they arrive and must undergo extensive checks by vets authorised by the FEI. The horses will then be isolated for 10 days upon their arrival before being allowed to proceed to the equestrian games venues in Sha Tin and Fanling.
After pointing out that horses would be checked for equine influenza, Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food York Chow Yat-ngok, raised the other influenza issue hanging over Hong Kong - by saying that plans were in place to cancel or postpone the equestrian events if bird flu struck.
Officials also listed the health requirements that horses will have to meet before being declared fit to take part in the Olympics and Paralympics in August and September 2008. To test facilities, a trial event involving about 10 horses will be held next year.
Horses imported into Hong Kong must have a certificate declaring them free of diseases. They must be vaccinated against equine influenza and tested for equine piroplasmosis, infectious anaemia and equine viral arteritis, African horse sickness, West Nile/Kunjin virus, and vesicular stomatitis.
Horses, which must have passports from the FEI, must be imported from overseas hubs via approved quarantine stables before coming to Hong Kong. Immediately upon arrival, they will be taken from Chek Lap Kok airport to isolation stables specially sealed to ensure they are mosquito-free.
'Hong Kong has an advantage in organising the events given its experience in horse racing, its status in equine health and its world-renowned regulatory framework for equine diseases, which is well understood by the international community,' Dr Chow said.