South Korea have their first feline coronavirus patient, a kitten at a missionary school in Jinju, South Gyeongnam Province where 100 people tested positive recently. The owner of the cat and her daughter tested positive for the virus and the presumption by the health authorities is their cat caught the virus from them. She has three cats in all. They were all tested for Covid-19 and the said kitten tested positive on Jan 24th.
The Prime Minister ordered research on the transmission of the disease between people and animals (presumed both ways). Fifteen million South Koreans have pets (human population is 52 million). Some scientists are concerned about animals including pets becoming a reservoir for the disease and, in the future, transmitting it back to people in the form of a variant which outfoxes the then current vaccines.
As a consequence, dogs and cats with symptoms of Covid-19 will have to be tested under order of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
A protocol has been formulated for the testing and quarantine of animals suspected of harbouring the disease.
The testing will be conducted by health authority and zoo staff. While awaiting the result the animals must remain confined.
If the test is positive the animal must remain isolated in the care of one family member for 14 days. The animal will not be sent to a state run quarantine facility.
The health ministry confirmed that there had been no known cases of people contracting the disease from companion animals.
Comment: current knowledge is that it is unlikely that cats and dogs pose a risk to people in respect of transmitting the disease to them, typically their owners. Cats that have had the disease have shown mild symptoms and self-cured with relative ease.
This does not mean that things might change and theoretically cats could transmit the disease to people because it is a zoonotic disease. This means that it can travel between humans and animals – both ways. Precautions are being taken in South Korea which has a good track record of dealing with the virus to minimise infections among people.
It is, therefore, unsurprising that the government has taken quite strict steps to deal with this potential threa.
However, it is important that all cat and dog owners behave calmly and with responsibility. They should do nothing which undermines the welfare of their companion animals.