Cats and dogs are no exceptions to South Korea’s COVID-19 testing and quarantine rules, Korean authorities said on Sunday.
The government’s call to test pets for the coronavirus came after a kitten tested positive for the virus in the southeastern city of Jinju. The cat was the first pet found to carry the virus in the country, officials said last week.
South Korea’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Sunday pets exposed to someone with the virus and showing symptoms must be tested – and quarantined.
“If pets are confirmed to be positive for the virus, they must be self-isolated in principle,” the health authorities said in a press release. The center said the pets can be quarantined in local government facilities if their owners can’t isolate them on their own.
The government said that no pets had transmitted the virus to humans, although experts have said they can’t rule out such a possibility.
“The best way to prevent animals from the virus is to practice social distancing with other animals and humans as much as possible,” Lyoo Young-soo, a professor of Veterinary Medicine at Konkuk University, told VICE World News.
“Since people are usually in close contact with their pets in their places, they must get tested if owners get tested positive.”
Yoo Han-sang, a professor at Veterinary Medicine at Seoul National University, told VICE World News that pet owners should take care of the animals’ hygiene “because we would never know what could come along with pets from the outside.”
Cats, dogs and even lions and tigers had previously tested positive for the coronavirus in places including Hong Kong and the United States. In one study, six out of 50 cats from households with (human) coronavirus patients were found to have the virus. The infected cats did not develop any symptoms.
A group of scientists has said cats and dogs may need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to curb the spread of virus.
“SARS-CoV-2 can infect a wide range of host species, including cats, dogs, mink, and other wild and domesticated species, and hence, the vaccination of domesticated animals might be required to halt further virus evolution and spillback events”, the scientists said in an editorial in the medical journal Virulence published last month.
Yoo, of Seoul National University, said, “I think we should think about vaccines for animals ultimately [to curb the virus], even though the [distribution] of the vaccine for humans are most urgent at the moment.”
Follow Junhyup Kwon on Twitter.