Animals were a suspected Covid-19 infection risk in the early days of the outbreak
UK officials considered asking citizens to exterminate their pet cats near the start of the coronavirus pandemic as a novel way to ‘flatten the curve,’ a former minister has said, noting that the government was not sure whether felines were playing a role in the health crisis.
Speaking to a local media outlet for an interview on Wednesday, ex-deputy health minister Lord James Bethell described the initial response to Covid-19 by government agencies, saying “we shouldn’t forget… how little we understood about this disease” at the time.
“There was a moment we were very unclear about whether domestic pets could transmit the disease,” he said. “In fact, there was an idea at one moment that we might have to ask the public to exterminate all the cats in Britain. Can you imagine what would have happened if we had wanted to do that?”
“There was an idea at one moment that we may have to ask the public to exterminate all the cats in Britain.”
Former Health Minister Lord Bethell discusses the early government response to the Covid pandemic. pic.twitter.com/YWyp32zPML
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) March 1, 2023
While Bethell noted that “for a moment” there was “a bit of evidence around that,” he said the matter was investigated and quickly “closed down” – meaning UK residents would not have to euthanize their beloved pets.
Officials were wary about the potential spread from animals after a Siamese cat became the first in Britain to contract the illness, with cat owners later warned not to kiss their pets and to “observe very careful hygiene” around them, according to Margaret Hosie, who led a government screening program.
Other nations, including Poland and Denmark, were also concerned about animal-borne transmission, with the latter country ordering a cull of a mink population thought to be carrying the virus. Officials later acknowledged the order was illegal, with Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen later apologizing for the decision.
Bethell served as a deputy to health minister Matt Hancock between 2020 and 2021. His comments to the UK’s Channel 4 News come after the leak of tens of thousands of WhatsApp messages, shedding light on the government’s response in the early months of the pandemic. Hancock has come under fire for allegedly disregarding advice from England’s top medical officer, Chris Whitty, to test all residents entering care homes. The former minister has vocally denied such charges, however, with a spokesperson insisting they are “categorically untrue.”