Cats killed in Chinese city after owner’s COVID-19 infection

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BEIJING – Three domestic cats that tested positive for coronavirus were euthanized in the northeast China city of Harbin, government-sponsored media reported, sparking a backlash on social media that some viewed as exaggerated in local efforts to contain the virus.

The owner of the cats was diagnosed with COVID-19 on September 21, and the local disease control agency euthanized her three cats, who later also tested positive despite her objections, Beijing News reported late Tuesday.

“There is likely no professional medical treatment for animals infected with the novel coronavirus,” a community worker said in an interview with Beijing News, explaining why the cats were killed.

The social worker said the cats continued to leave viral traces in the room.

“It doesn’t seem very realistic that cats would contaminate the environment to the point where they put their owner at risk of re-infection with COVID,” said Rachael Tarlinton, professor of virology at the University of Nottingham, UK, adding that surfaces are not a primary route of virus transmission.

Scientists have said there is as yet no evidence that pets play an important role in spreading the virus to humans.

“I strongly disagree with this approach! To be clear, it’s a crude, simple, and lazy form of management just to evade responsibility,” wrote one social media user on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.

The Beijing News report was deleted from its social media channels on Wednesday. The outlet posted a comment on Weibo on Wednesday urging authorities to introduce standards for dealing with infected pets.

China has contained most of the regional coronavirus outbreaks within weeks by enforcing mass testing and community bans, even if few cases have been reported.

According to the Beijing News report on Tuesday, Feng Zijian, a researcher with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said domestic cats should be killed if they repeatedly give positive results.

Vanessa Barrs, a professor at City University of Hong Kong who specializes in animal health and diseases, said the risk of transmission from infected pets to humans is low.

“So far, there have been no confirmed reports of cat-to-human infection throughout the pandemic, unlike the situation with farmed mink in Europe, where there has been transmission of COVID-19 infected mink to humans,” she said.

“The situation is very different for domestic cats and dogs, and other solutions can be implemented for animals.”