Covid fears prompted Government to ponder ‘exterminating’ 11m cats

Lord Bethell on the early government response to the Covid pandemic

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Britain’s 11 million cats were in the firing line at the start of the Covid pandemic, a former health minister has admitted, with the Government considering ordering them all to be “exterminated”. Lord Bethell used the surprising example to illustrate the widespread ignorance about the way in which the disease was spread when it first emerged in the UK at the start of 2020.

He said: “There was a moment we were very unclear about whether domestic pets could transmit the disease.

“In fact, there was an idea at one moment that we might have to ask the public to exterminate all the cats in Britain.”

He added: “Can you imagine what would have happened if we had wanted to do that?

“And yet, for a moment there was a bit of evidence around that so that had to be investigated and closed down.”

The Twitter account of Larry, the feline resident of Number 10, dubbed Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office, was quick to wade in, posting: “Hard not to take this personally.”

The Government’s official coronavirus guidance can be read here.

A survey published by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) last year indicated Britain is currently home to 11.1 million cats, with 24 percent of the UK adult population owning one.

Advice carried on the website of Cats Protection says: “There is limited evidence to suggest the transmission of COVID-19 from people to cats may be possible.

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“This implies that transmission from humans to cats is extremely rare.

“Therefore, it is important that owners should not worry unnecessarily.

“Given the lack of transmission there are currently no plans to vaccinate cats against COVID-19.”

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As a precaution, owners are advised to

  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after handling their pet or when touching their food or bedding
  • Avoid close contact such as cuddling or kissing your cat if self-isolating
  • Not share food with their cat

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