Hebei swine flu
© Reuters / Hallie Gu
Workers in protective suits are seen at a checkpoint near a farm where African swine fever was detected in Hebei province, China on February 26, 2019.
African swine fever has spread all across China's mainland, threatening the country's entire sprawling hog industry and the global supply of pork. The epidemic broke out nine months ago but still appears to be uncontained.

It has now reached China's southernmost province of Hainan - which had thus far been spared from swine fever. Over 140 pigs have already died from the disease at six farms in the province, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said on Sunday.

The outbreak of the virus began last August and has now spread to all 31 provinces of mainland China, with more than 100 cases reported over the past few months across the country. The virus is highly contagious and deadly for pigs, it causes high fever, massive hemorrhaging in internal organs and, ultimately, death. While, fortunately, the African swine fever does not affect humans as such, it has heavily affected the massive pork industry of the country.

The epidemic is affecting some 150-200 million pigs, according to estimates by financial analyst firm Rabobank, and the country is expected to face a 30 percent loss in pork production this year and next. At some locations losses due to a swine fever outbreak might be even worse, reaching 50 percent.

Pork is the meat of choice in China, making up over 60 percent of overall meat consumption. While the country is expected to face shortages - and soaring prices - of the product, it's actually quite hard to make up for them, even from foreign sources.

"A lot of herds will disappear due to infection and liquidation," Rabobank senior analyst Chenjun Pan told South China Morning Post. "There will be a great shortage. We don't think any country in the world, or the whole world combined, could cover this supply gap. Even after increasing the imports, there remains a supply shortage."

Beijing has already ramped up pork imports, which have grown by 10 percent in the first two months of the year. It surely cannot be a good sign, given that China is actually the largest pork producer itself - roughly a half of the world's pig population is raised there.