Equine Influenze (the "Horse Flu") is currently rampaging through Australia. Looking beyond the admittedly painful results on the poor animals that contract it (it kills foals and many horses are left debilitated and "never the same again") it provides a hugely interesting even for people interested in economics and complex systems.
Firstly, the outbreak has occured DESPITE Australia's extremely thorough, paranoid and influential quarantine systems. Due to a long history of disasterous imported species here, and the fact we have no porous land borders, we have both the chance to create effective prevention of diseases, and ample examples of failure.
So the Australian Quarantine Service has something approaching superpowers here, and a very healthy level of paranoia.
The reason it escaped? Most likely reason so far is the lax quarantine protocols on the part of some of the vets that visited there.
Now that it is out, the epidemialogical situation is quite straight forward.
There was an immediate national lockdown of anything capable of carrying the disease, with police patrols out in force to catch the "human desperation" factor of people moving animals despite (or because of) the ban. (50 or so people were caught)
Here in Sydney (where it started) it has gotten into the police horse barracks (no mounted police for APEC) and in the last few days it got into Randwick Racecource (a few km from my place) which houses 700 thoroughbred race-horses (about a third of the country's racing stock).
And here's where things get truly interesting and complicated, because the entire racing industry in NSW is dead, overnight, and will remain dead a minimum of three months.
Horse racing here (including related industries) is something like the 4th largest industry in the country, and has a highly diverse economic footprint.
As a form of gambling it preys on the poor and mathematically challenged, BUT it consumes a LOT of money from the rich as well, who own and fund the horses (since it is a form of entertainment, it doesn't actually produce anything).
It also funds a variety of secondary and tertiary industries. With the cancellation of the entire "Spring Canival" the milleners (hat makers) are going to be in dire straights, and other parts of the fashion industry oriented around high/facing fashion are going to take a pounding as well.
There's also a bunch of free cash floating around from the gamblers... the local Casino is reportedly doing a roaring trade, and the greyhound racing is seeing it's best attendance and betting rates in decades.
It will also be interesting to see other places where turnover is up... takeaway places and movie rentals for those left with money in the pockets on Monday amoung the poor perhaps? A drop in credit card levels? An increase in yacht rentals as the rich go out on the water instead of to the track?
In fact, one of the few elements of this that isn't a disaster is the people who will lose their jobs because of this. Because they've been lucky enough for this to happen at a time when we have the lowest unemployment in 30 years.
So at least it won't be TOO hard for people to find alternative jobs.