FMD risk: Rural Aussies returning from Bali urged to take extra care

James Nason, 07/07/2022

Country-based Australians returning from Bali or other parts of Indonesia are being urged to consider spending an extra day in a capital city before returning home to reduce the risk of carrying FMD into rural areas.

Calls are also mounting in the heavily-exposed agriculture sector for the Federal Government to urgently introduce disinfectant foot baths at airports as a further barrier to prevent the incursion of a disease that would bring Australia’s livestock industry and rural economy to its knees.

FMD is a highly contagious, fast spreading disease. An outbreak in Australia would cause an animal welfare crisis and the immediate loss of access to a range of valuable export markets.

Indonesian-based livestock vet and Beef Central analyst Ross Ainsworth described the danger of transmission to Australia now that FMD has spread to the major tourist hotspot of Bali as “extreme”.

“The only sensible approach is to put disinfectant foot baths in Bali and Australian airports for tourists to walk through onto and off the plane,” he said.

“I can’t understand why this measure is being resisted considering the cost/benefit considerations.”

Nationals Leader and shadow agriculture minister David Littleproud also joined the growing chorus calling for footbaths at airports today, saying they are the “only way to effectively mitigate the vulnerability” Australia now faces.

Australia has previously been regarded as “Fortress Australia” but recent foreign disease and pest incursions including varroa mite, Japanese Encephalitis and Fall Armyworm have demonstrated that our island nation’s defences are not impregnable.

In response to the news that FMD is now in Bali, Agriculture Minister Murray Watt and Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Mark Schipp have this week announced that border biosecurity measures have been ramped up.

These involved new targeted operations at major airports servicing travel from Indonesia to check a wider range of passengers who could be contaminated with FMD or be carrying contaminated goods and assessment of all passengers on flights from Indonesia, with high risk passengers identified for intervention.

Specfic measures included locating biosecurity detector dogs in Darwin and Cairns Airports, additional signage and the distribution of flyers at major airports, informing travellers of FMD risk and precautions, expanded social media campaigns, additional training of airport biosecurity staff, enhancement of mail profiling and inspections, and boarding by biosecurity officers on arriving flights from Indonesia.

However disinfectant footbaths in airports are not among the measures announced so far.

Minister Watt told the ABC  last night that he would not force travellers to walk through foot baths, noting many would be wearing thongs, adding that the disinfectant required would be too caustic on exposed skin.

Bali is one of the rare places where tourists come into regular contact with cattle that are present on many streets, as Ross Ainsworth has previously explained.

It is one of the many reasons why people throughout Australia’s livestock sector are gravely concerned about the risk of transmision posed by returning travellers.

One senior red meat industry figure suggested to Beef Central that travellers returning from Indonesia to rural areas in Australia should consider the additional precaution of spending one more day in the capital city to which they return before travelling home, to reduce the chance of any trace of FMD being active when they travel back into an agricultural area.

Some sources have told Beef Central that FMD can live on the clothing and body of travellers for up to 48 hours, particularly in the form of manure on boots or in moist areas such as the nostrils.

A Department of Agriculture spokesperson said Australia’s AUSVETPLAN for FMD states that the risk of prolonged carriage of the FMD virus on travellers is considered to be low.

The same source states there is little evidence to suggest that such people play a significant role in transmitting FMD under field conditions.

Dr Ainsworth’s advice as a practicing vet with decades of first-hand experience working through northern Australia and south east Asia is that people returning from Bali to Australian farms should be taking additional precautions.

“My choice if I was a rural person returning from Bali to my farm is that I would launder and scrub everything before getting on the plane then work on my shoes and other clothing and equipment that might have been contaminated from my hotel to the airport when I arrive in Australia.

“But spending longer in the city after arrival would be effective too.”


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  1. Baden Davis, 08/07/2022

    easy stop travellers now

  2. David Heath, 07/07/2022

    It is now so difficult to ask the Republic of Indonesia (RI) of placing pre-embarkation footbaths in strategic spots in the country’s airports for exiting passengers if a mild excuse is used in Australia Not To as receivers of their own public. This beggars Belief!

    • Robin Hansen, 08/07/2022

      David you are not wrong. To ask the Indonesian government to undertake a task beneficial to us when we won’t is pure folly.

      The use of a soda ash solution impregnated in sponge material may have worked for AQIS back in 2001 however surely CSIRO or others have developed a more efficient and discreet method of disinfecting footwear on International travellers.

  3. Marg Killalea, 07/07/2022

    Grave concern for ineffective management of FMD threat.
    Unacceptable comment by new Federal Agriculture Minister.

    I take umbrage listening to the ABC news story

    I am very disturbed by content aired tonight regarding the threat of Foot and Mouth reaching Australia’s shores and it decimating the red meat industry, regional Australia, thousand and thousands of farming livestock businesses including our pasture based beef business and particularly the latest naive response of the new Federal Agriculture Minister.

    So far, Minister Watt appears incredibly weak in defending Australia’s livestock industry; his throw away comment to the idea of returning tourists from Indonesia and Bali walking through a foot (shoe) bath, “The Minister said he would not force travellers to walk through foot baths, noting many would be wearing thongs. He said the disinfectant required would be too caustic on exposed skin. And Mr Watt also ruled out a travel ban between Bali and Australia.”

    If he had the heart of Australia’s livestock industry foremost in mind (he is the new Minister for Agriculture!!), he would not have made this short on thinking, naive response. It appears his concern is more for the travelling tourist, rather than the urgent and most significant threat to our industry.

    It’s a mammoth worst case disaster in waiting, while we have a new minister on trainer wheels. Smacks of a former Minister, Mr Joe Ludwig in 2011, reckless decision to ban beef exports.

    I say there should be a much stronger response of action by the Government, and if FMD infection risk is high via footwear, travellers returning from Indonesia footwear be destroyed on re-entry to Australia (and quarantine services provide replacement footwear for tourists to wear mandatory for re-entry). This would be a small cost to the Australian Government, and may form part of a more effective short term fix.

    A travel ban surely would be the most effective longer term option. I cannot understand why the Minister is not pursuing this option.

  4. Greg and Bronwyn McNamara, 07/07/2022

    It is unbelievable that foot baths are not being used. Surely there are non corrosive disinfectants available.

  5. Lee Fitzpatrick, 07/07/2022

    I too would like to see a more proactive approach to biosecurity surveillance of incoming passengers from Indonesia and particularly Bali, in the face of the current FMD outbreak.
    I arrived back into Brisbane from London some years ago when the United Kingdom was fighting an FMD outbreak. As I had been on farms adjacent to the FMD area I made sure that my clothes and particularly my boots were clean. The latter I carried in a plastic bag in my hand luggage.
    On arrival I declared that I had been on farms and headed for quarantine inspection queue, where the biosecurity officer on duty inspected my boots, declared them to be clean and told me that I was free to go. “No”, I replied. “I have been on farms in the region of the UK’s FMD outbreak. You need to take these boots and wash them with the appropriate disinfectant”, which they duly did!
    As someone who had taught exotic disease awareness to veterinary students for many years, I was surprised at the lack of alertness to the UK’s active FMD status at that time!
    Lee Fitzpatrick BVSc

  6. Peter Hamilton, 07/07/2022

    Travellers out bound to Bali must be advised of the risks.. and a clear simple request to do the following;

    1. Avoid visiting farms, wet markets and proximity to all livestock
    2. Wash all clothes and footwear before returning home.

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