Hoof-and-mouth closes Stonehenge, U.K. sites


NEW YORK -- Rural attractions in England are feeling the effects of travel restrictions caused by the spreading hoof-and-mouth disease in Great Britain, including 139 sites under the control of English Heritage.

Among the better-known places that have temporarily closed are Stonehenge, Avebury and the monuments at Hadrian's Wall. Dozens of small museums, abbeys and priories also have closed.

A spokeswoman for London-based English Heritage said the sites were shut down as a precautionary measure against the spread of the hoof-and-mouth virus, which diminishes the value of cloven-hoofed livestock such as cattle, pigs and sheep.

Stonehenge is among the heritage sites temporarily shut down.The disease normally does not affect humans, it but poses a major economic threat to farming and agricultural industries. The disease can be transmitted to other animals on the clothing and cars of people coming out of a contaminated area.

"The countryside is pretty much closed down. We just don't want people coming into a potentially infected area and then inadvertently transmitting the virus further," the spokeswoman said.

Stonehenge normally receives about 2,000 visitors per day at this time of year, she added.

In addition to heritage sites, national parks, forests, nature trails and zoos have been shut down throughout Great Britain.

The outbreak of hoof-and-mouth could affect spring travel itineraries, as tour operators would have to re-route their motorcoaches away from quarantined areas.

Government officials in the U.K. are hoping that the outbreak has peaked and that travel restrictions soon will be lifted, but as recently as March 8, a spokesman from the British Ministry of Agriculture said, "This outbreak is going to last for a long time -- and I can't tell you how long."

Sixty-one thousand animals already have been slaughtered in Britain, and the daily news broadcasts are not helping the country's tourism image, two British Tourist Authority representatives acknowledged at the ITB travel trade show in Berlin last week.

But the negative publicity has so far not affected bookings or inquiries.

Colin Joy, manager of the BTA for Switzerland & Austria, said his region's largest operator, which sends about 100,000 customers to Great Britain annually, reported five cancellations.

"We've talked to our hotels and other suppliers and they haven't had any slowdown in response to the hoof-and-mouth publicity from Europe or the U.S." he said.

But Joy said he is worried that widespread media coverage of the disease will cause confusion for travelers."

"We need to get across to the trade that the reason Britain has taken draconian measures -- closing parks, canceling sporting events, asking people not to travel to farm areas and slaughtering whole herds -- is merely to contain the spread of the airborne illness."

Tourism officials in the U.K. aren't the only ones worried. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on March 5 the implementation of disinfectant procedures at U.S. airports for people traveling into the country from Europe. This entails walking on a mat soaked with disinfectant.

The USDA said travelers coming into the country who have been on farms are being asked to "clean and disinfect" their clothes prior to entering the U.S.

And those who have been on a farm will have their baggage examined, the USDA said.

Get more: To read a public announcement from the U.S. State Department click here.

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