October 16, 2019


South Korea to shoot dead infected African Swine Flu pigs coming from North Korea


Army snipers, civilian hunters and thermal vision drones will be sent to the 250km border to stop African swine fever (ASF) pigs from crossing into South Korea, Bloomberg reported.


These strengthened measures follows reports of five wild boars discovered dead this month tested positive for the viral haemorrhagic disease in or near border areas separating South Korea and North Korea.


If the strategy proves safe and effective, more South Korean troops may be deployed along the border to halt the ASF spread. Seven military helicopters have been deployed to disinfect parts of the border since ASF was first reported a month ago. As of October 11, the country has culled 154,548 pigs at 94 farms.


The wild boars' freedom of movement suggests a spread of the deadly disease across North Korea, with Ms Lee Hye-Hoon, chair of South Korea's National Assembly's intelligence committee stating ASF has reached almost all of North Korea, with pigs in North Pyongan said to be completely eliminated.


Officially, ASF has skipped over North Korea. North Korea's agriculture ministry reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) on May 30 that only 22 pigs were dead from the disease at a farm 260km north of Pyongyang, capital of North Korea. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is awaiting approval to post a delegate to North Korea.


ASF could endanger North Korea's weak food security. This problem is compounded with forecasts for local crop production estimated to be smaller than usual in 2019 because of below-average rainfall and low water supply for irrigation.


As North Korea has little experience mitigating an epidemic of this scale, plus the fact that pig farms in North Korea are generally raised by independent farmers (surpassing state-owned and collective farms), the virus could become widespread - it might become a threat to South Korea­­­­ too. This makes it harder to eradicate the disease though the typical method of quarantine and culling diseased pigs. In turn, ASF could be spread to neighbouring China and Russia.


South Korea's Ministry of Environment has begun testing streams and soil near the border for ASF, with tests on wild boars by the agriculture ministry implemented before Pyongyang reported an outbreak.


According to the International Society for Infectious Diseases ProMED-mail programme, the South Korean veterinary authorities have managed to prevent the spread of ASF southwards from the border area. But they warn that virus introductions from North Korea will scupper South Korea's efforts in managing the spread.


Additionally, South Korea has reached out to North Korea to collaborate against the spread of ASF but has yet to get any response.


- Bloomberg