China: City Euthanizes Pet Cats After Owner Tests Positive for Coronavirus

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Local government authorities in the Chinese city of Harbin euthanized three pet cats on Tuesday against their owner’s wishes after both she and the cats tested positive for coronavirus, China’s state-run Global Times reported Wednesday.

The pets’ owner tested positive for the Chinese coronavirus on September 21. Local health officials ordered the woman to leave her apartment that same day and enter a state hospital to begin a mandatory self-isolation period. Before leaving her home, the woman left food and water out for her three pet cats.

“Shortly after, a community worker carried out tests on the cats and all three cats tested positive for the virus twice, prompting authorities to take action,” the Independent relayed on Thursday, citing a September 28 report by the state-backed Beijing News site.

“Despite appeals from the cat owner, the three cats were put to sleep in what has been viewed as a harsh and extreme measure by Chinese authorities to control the disease spread,” the newspaper revealed.

Beijing News published an original report of the incident on September 28 but deleted the article from its social media accounts hours later following an online backlash of the city officials’ cruel actions.

“The cats would have continued to leave viral traces in the room,” an unnamed community worker told Beijing News in the short-lived article, according to Reuters.

“There is probably no professional medical treatment for animals infected with the novel coronavirus,” the worker said.

He implied that the cats, left untreated, would have posed a reinfection risk to their owner and also might have endangered other residents of her apartment complex. The worker’s explanation runs counter to official health data, which shows that the risk of coronavirus transmission from pet animals to humans is extremely low and has never been recorded in the case of domesticated cats.

“So far, in the whole pandemic, there have been no confirmed reports of cat to human infection,” Vanessa Barrs, a professor at City University of Hong Kong specializing in animal health and disease, told Reuters on September 29.

“It doesn’t seem very realistic that cats would contaminate the environment so badly that they would be a risk for their owner to re-contract Covid-19 [Chinese coronavirus],” Rachael Tarlinton, a virology professor at the University of Nottingham, told the news agency. She noted that “surfaces are not a major route of viral transmission.”

The city of Harbin, where the pet cats were euthanized Tuesday, is located in China’s northeastern province of Heilongjiang. The province is currently battling a resurgent coronavirus caseload. Most of Heilongjiang’s new infections have been detected in Harbin, its capital, where local authorities have imposed strict lockdown mandates in recent days to control virus transmission.

China’s National Health Commission reported “16 imported COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] cases and six locally-transmitted infections” nationwide on September 30.

“All of the newly-added local cases were reported in Harbin, northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province,” according to the commission.

“Cities like Harbin where local new cases are still reported are facing an arduous task in effectively controlling and reducing the risk of the virus spread,” the Global Times, an official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), argued on September 29.

“The decision of the epidemic prevention and control staff to put down the cats has shown their responsible attitude toward the safety of people’s lives,” the state mouthpiece claimed.

Heilongjiang provincial authorities “punished” nine local CCP officials in Harbin on September 28 for allegedly failing to “pay enough attention to the epidemic prevention and control work and their poor management of quarantined people and transport work” in the city’s latest coronavirus outbreak.

Key officials of various districts and counties within Harbin, including “Ding Wei, deputy head of Songbei district, Li Yanguo, secretary of Bayan county political and legal committee, and Feng Hua, director of the Bayan county emergency management bureau,” have received “disciplinary warnings” from China’s ruling Communist Party for their allegedly poor virus containment.

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