New Zealand's success against the human pandemic Covid-19 has yet to be fully tested, but a simultaneous battle to wipe out the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis seems to be winning.
The Ministry for Primary Industries said despite having to continue the three year eradication fight against the disease in the Covid-19 lockdown, testing numbers give confidence that eradication is still possible.
MPI said to date $278.8 million has been spent on operational costs since the start of the national M. bovis response in July 2017. This includes $94.3m spent in the weeks prior to the Government-industry decision to try to eradicate a disease that is endemic in the herds of New Zealand's trading partners, but was only diagnosed here in 2017.
An additional $147.2m in compensation has been paid to farmers whose herds have been killed by order after being diagnosed as infected. To date 154,197 animals have been slaughtered.
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When the Government and dairy and beef cattle sectors made the joint decision to try to be the first country in the world to eradicate the disease, nearly $1 billion was earmarked for the fight.
The taxpayer was to contribute $591m, the dairy sector $262m and beef farmers $17.4m.
MPI said the nearly $279m operational expense so far included all of the programme's operational costs, including testing, on-farm operational costs, building leases, transport, capital expenditure, contractors, including AsureQuality, staff salaries, and technology and information management systems.
M. bovis programme director Stuart Anderson said the eradication effort had continued throughout the Covid-19 emergency response. Staff and contractor numbers continued to be around 450, he said.
"It is vital the programme keeps momentum and maintains the gains that have been achieved so far, making the eradication of M. bovis possible. We are confident that we are on track to eradicate this disease, as we look harder to find less through initiatives such as bulk tank milk surveillance and the National Beef Survey."
Level 4 measures included making contact by phone before arriving on farms to make plans for physical distancing, staff travelling to farms in separate vehicles and maintaining appropriate distances while carrying out their work. These measures continue under Level 3.
All staff not required to be on-farm are working from home, which came with the challenges faced by many essential services, like connectivity, remote communications and isolation, Anderson said.
Work during the Covid-19 response had been challenging.
On-farm visits had been reduced to limit person-to-person contact with increased phone meetings. Essential work on farms required PPE and social distancing, which meant the use of multiple vehicles being required for staff to travel to the farm independently.
Interactions with farms that have immune compromised or elderly persons on-site had been delayed or rescheduled.
On MPI's continuing confidence in eradicating the disease, Anderson said one key benchmark used was the estimated dissemination rate (EDR).
"It's a measure where we look at the number of herds that become infected and the number of herds in the country. If the rate is greater than one, then the disease is growing. If it's below one, we're shrinking the disease. It's great to be able to report that the EDR is below one. It has been below one since the first quarter of 2018 and is continuing to decline – currently it is 0.4."
Anderson said the next meeting of the technical advisory group of experts advising on the programme had yet to be decided.
To date 114 farms were under MPI notice of direction and 235 properties under active surveillance.
At May 10 last year 137 properties were under notice of direction and 334 properties under active surveillance, MPI said.
On May 9 2018 a Ministerial statement said 38 farms were active infected places and another 40 were under restricted place notice, which meant they were considered highly likely to become infected. Nearly 1700 properties were of interest because of risk events such as animal movements, the supply of milk for animal feed or because they are adjacent to infected properties."
The active surveillance category wasn't in use at that time.
MPI's latest weekly update on the programme said 1.4 million tests had been done and 1695 properties released from notice of direction movement restriction.
Compensation had been paid in response to 1816 farmer claims and 165 were being processed.