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Viral Plague Panic Spreads -
Malaysian Army To Kill
By Frances Harrison in Kuala Lumpur
The Malaysian army and police
have been called in to help shoot more than 100,000 pigs thought
to be carrying the deadly Japanese encephalitis virus, following an outbreak
of the disease which is transmitted from pigs to humans via mosquitoes.
Many farms have been abandoned
as people flee infected regions. Officials say 33 people have died of the
virus in the western state of Negri Sembilan in the last fortnight, most
of them pig farmers or their families. Fifteen people have died in other
The virus, known as the `plague
of the Orient', causes inflammation of the brain. Three hundred thousand
people and half a million pigs are to be vaccinated, but there are fears
that this is a new strain against which there is no protection. Panic has
broken out in Negri Sembilan, which has some of the biggest pig farms in
south-east Asia. Towns lie deserted, with houses, schools and supermarkets
Only 10 men remain in the village
of Sungai Nipah and at night they all sleep on the floor of the Chinese
temple, hoping for divine protection from the mosquitoes which carry the
virus. Sungai Nipah won an award three years in a row for being the best-kept
Chinese village in Malaysia - now its last residents describe it as a ghost
Farmers are facing bankruptcy
after generations in the pig business. Malaysia's £250 million pork
business has been hit hard by fears that the meat is unsafe to eat, despite
reassurances by the government. Sales are said to have slumped by between
40 and 70 per cent
A 35-year-old farmer committed
suicide last week by drinking weedkiller after he failed to sell his pigs
and could not get credit to buy feed for them.
Unable to care for their animals
because the workforce has fled, farmers are resorting to killing their
pigs. The stench of carcasses not properly disposed of has led to fears
of a fresh outbreak of disease.
The opposition leader, Lim Kit
Siang, has urged the government to compensate farmers and declare a national
emergency to deal with the health scare. 'I feel total despair and utter
helplessness to see people dying like flies one after another, day by day,'
said Mr Lim, who accused the government of doing too little, too late.
The minister of health, Chua Jui
Meng, said: 'The cabinet has agreed in principle that some kind of humanitarian
assistance be given to pig farmers, but the cabinet wants to make it clear
there will be no compensation.'
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