Veterinary care deemed essential service in N.S., funeral homes seek same designation

Veterinary care is now deemed an essential service in Nova Scotia during the COVID-19 pandemic, the same designation that funeral directors in the province are also seeking.

The province's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang, said Thursday that provincial lawyers were working to amend the order of the Health Protection Act.

He said under the change, veterinarians will be able to provide urgent and emergency services for pets.

Marla MacInnis, a spokesperson for the province, confirmed in an email to CBC News on Thursday that the amended order took effect today.

She confirmed that no other industries are included in the new order.

Funeral homes are also pushing to be deemed essential, fearing what will happen if all non-essential businesses are forced to close.

"We're concerned that we will slip through the cracks," said Patrick Curry, acting president of the Funeral Service Association of Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia is currently under a state of emergency. A variety of businesses have been ordered to close, including bars and hair salons.

Funeral homes will play an important role in dealing with people who die from COVID-19 and their potentially infected loved ones, Curry said, and funeral associations in Canada are trying to "put this front of mind" with governments.

"If things escalate to a point where it becomes critical, it's important that we are part of that conversation so we have access to whatever protective equipment is required," he said.

Right now, any business that is not deemed essential in Nova Scotia and has not been required to close can remain open as long as a two-metre distance between people can be maintained.

The services currently deemed essential include health, food, fisheries, transportation, construction, IT, and public services such as police, fire and ambulances.

Craig Paisley/CBC

Dr. Frank Richardson, registrar with the Nova Scotia Veterinary Medical Association, said they have been lobbying the province over the last week, writing to the minister of agriculture's office and providing documents to support their request.

"If we're mandated by government to close, then that's going to impact every Nova Scotian that has an animal that may need emergency care during this crisis," Richardson said before the regulatory change was announced.

Richardson said veterinary clinics have been complying with the requirements. Offices have reduced hours and are not providing non-essential services. Annual vaccinations, spays and neuters have been delayed until a later date.

"The clients wait in the cars, by and large the veterinary staff are dressed in personal protective equipment... The doctor talks to the client over the phone," Richardson said. "Which is all in trying to have a moral compass to ensure the health and safety of Nova Scotians."

MacInnis said according to the province, funeral homes can do body retrievals, but no wakes or services that involve large gatherings.

Curry said funeral services in the province are now dealing with families over the phone, not holding gatherings of more than five people and practising social distancing.

He said he's hopeful funeral services will be deemed essential so the next time there is a pandemic or disaster, "We are immediately able to be part of the disaster plan."