BERLIN (AP) -- In the strongest sign yet that Britain's foot-and-mouth outbreak could spread to the European continent, two German farms were under quarantine Wednesday after officials said sheep there were exposed to the disease.
Germany's growing panic focused on three sheep imported from Britain that tested positive for antibodies to the highly contagious livestock disease this week after being slaughtered as a precaution. Officials in North Rhine-Westphalia state said the findings indicated the sheep had been in contact with the disease and further tests would determine whether they had actually caught the foot-and-mouth virus.
"Then, that would really be the disaster scenario," state environment minister Baerbel Hoehn said on ZDF television late Tuesday.
Authorities immediately sealed off two farms in the western German state -- one in Aachen, the other in Neuss -- with a 2-mile exclusion zone. A total of 350 sheep from the farms were destroyed in recent days because they had come from a British farm hit by foot-and-mouth disease.
Some 1,200 other sheep on the two farms were also being destroyed.
In France, the government said Tuesday it would destroy 20,000 sheep imported from Britain since the beginning of the month as well as all sheep of unknown origin that entered France through intra-Europe trade.
With no end in sight to the foot-and-mouth outbreak in Britain, public life on the island increasingly ground to a standstill.
The government on Wednesday confirmed four new cases of the disease, bringing the number of affected farms and slaughterhouses to 22.
Authorities closed public footpaths, canceled horse races and called off various sports events, adding to precautions aiming to minimize the possibility of humans carrying the virus.
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