A culling of all pet cats was considered early on in the Covid-19 pandemic, a former minister has said. The UK government was considering asking the population to exterminate their four-footed friends in order to stop the spread of the virus, ex-health minister James Bethell told Channel 4.
Talking on Channel 4 News, Bethell said: “What we shouldn’t forget is how little we understood about this disease. There was a moment we were very unclear about whether domestic pets could transmit the disease. 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?”
After a Siamese cat was the first pet recorded to catch the disease in July 2020, the government urged people not to kiss their pets. Leading the screening programme, professor of comparative virology at University of Glasgow, Margaret Hosie, advised the cat owners to “observe very careful hygiene”.
The news of the discussed culling comes as James Bethell’s then-boss and former health secretary Matt Hancock face criticism over a leak of over 100,000 messages on chat app WhatsApp. The messages have given the public insight into how the government operated during the pandemic, and suggest Hancock rejected advice from medical professionals such as England’s chief medical officer, Prof Sir Chris Whitty, to test everyone entering care homes.
Hancock has denied rejecting advice. A spokesperson for the former minister said the claims are “categorically untrue”.