By Shakeh Avoyan
A senior government official assured the public on Wednesday that the outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF) registered in northern Armenia last month is “under control” despite having reached Yerevan.
The disease, which mainly affects pigs, was first detected in a village near the Georgian border on August 7 before spreading to six other rural communities in the Lori and Tavush regions. Armenian veterinary authorities say it was the cause of mass deaths of pigs reported by local farmers.
The Agriculture Ministry quarantined those communities late last month, ordering a mandatory cull of all pigs. Police and veterinary services set up joint roadblocks outside the villages to enforce the extraordinary measure.
According to Grigor Baghian, head of the ministry’s Food Safety and Veterinary Inspectorate, some 1,700 animals have already been slaughtered in the area. Armenia’s entire pig population is estimated at between 180,00 and 220,000.
Baghian said the measures did not prevent ASF from reaching a pig farm in Yerevan this week. But he seemed confident that the disease outbreak will be contained, saying that his agency has already sent out detailed instructions to farmers across the country on how to detect and prevent the virus. “Rest assured that the situation is under control,” he told a news conference.
Baghian also emphasized the fact that ASF does not affect other domestic animals and humans. “As far as human beings are concerned, there is nothing to be worried about,” he said. “People won’t be infected by this disease.”
Despite such assurances, sales of pork have visibly decreased in Yerevan over the past week. Pork prices have also dropped as a result.
Baghian admitted that Armenian veterinary experts lack detailed knowledge of the disease, which rarely occurs outside Africa and has not been reported in the South Caucasus before. He said they need the assistance of their Western colleagues and want to send virus samples to a specialized laboratory in Britain for that purpose. “Unfortunately, our airport is not prepared to handle such a shipment right now,” he added.
Baghian also reiterated his agency’s belief that the disease spilled into Armenia from Georgia where an ASF outbreak occurred on a larger scale earlier this summer. Tens of thousands of pigs died or were culled there as a result.