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Pilgrims must pass disinfection stations

Catholic travelers to and from the basilica at Aglona will have to pass across disinfection mats put into place by veterinary health authorities to keep their outer footwear from becoming spreading agents for African swine fever (ASF) as they leave the annual pilgrimage site and return to their homes.

As reported, Aglona district is located in the heart of the territory where the first outbreaks of ASF were detected in Latgale, prompting the declaration of a state-of-emergency situation there.

The seven disinfection stations will be recognizable by signs labeled “footwear disinfection” and will be equipped with explanatory information stands.

The PVD asks everyone disinfecting their footwear to be cautious and not cross the disinfection mats with untied or open shoes, or with bare feet.

As reported, every year the southeastern Latgale provincial town of Aglona welcomes hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. Already a month ago, the Food and Veterinary Service (PVD) issued a joint statement with the Catholic Church to warn prospective pilgrims this year to be aware of the ongoing state-of-emergency measures put into place to stop the further spread of ASF.

As Latvia’s most important Catholic spiritual center, Aglona’s basilica is known as a sacred site visited each year by hundreds of thousands of Eastern European believers on the day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Many of Latvia’s Catholics observe a tradition of walking all or part of the way to the event, the journey taking some up to a week or longer to complete.

As August 15 nears, roads to Aglona become crowded with groups of worshippers, who come singing, carrying flags and crucifixes to the celebration of the holy site, drink from its sulfur spring and glimpse the Virgin Mary on a 17th century oak icon kept under wraps during the rest of the year. Many believe the spring and icon have miraculous healing powers.

Thursday is the first day of the religious festival, ending in the evening with a traditional candle-lit prayer walk. The holy mass will take place on Friday.

As of Thursday ASF has been confirmed among 55 wild boar and 56 domestic pigs. Already 459 pigs have been culled and burned at 25 homesteading farms.

While harmless to humans, people can be carriers of the virus via clothing and shoes, exposing new populations of pigs to the disease. The African strain differs from classical swine fever in that there is no vaccine to protect domestic pigs against it.

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