Hong Kong quarantines pets after dog tests positive for coronavirus

Sophia Yan
A woman wears a face mask as she sits on a bench in Hong Kong - Rex

Pets cannot carry the coronavirus, experts have said, after authorities in Hong Kong quarantined a dog and pledged to isolate more.

The Hong Kong quarantine is the first reported case anywhere in the world of a government restricting pets over the outbreak.

The canine, a Pomeranian, has been placed in quarantine for 14 days as a precaution but has no "relevant symptoms", Hong Kong officials said.

"Nasal and oral cavity samples tested weak positive for COVID-19," a government spokesman said without explaining why they tested the animal in the first place.

He said it was unclear whether the dog had actually contracted the virus or tested positive for low levels due to environmental contamination of the dog's mouth and nose.

The animal was collected from the owner's home on Wednesday after the 60-year-old woman was diagnosed with the contagion and placed in a hospital isolation ward.

It would be closely monitored, undergo further tests and held in quarantine until it returned a negative result, authorities said.

There is no evidence domestic animals such as dogs and cats can catch the virus or transmit it to humans but the department said all pets of infected people should be quarantined and tested for the virus for 14 days.   However, Professor Jonathan Ball, a molecular virologist at Nottingham University, said testing the dog was a “red herring”.

“It’s like it [coronavirus] being on somebody’s sleeve,” he said. “The amount of virus on the dog was a weak test, so low that it probably wouldn’t transmit anyway, and there’s certainly no more risk than any other surface that could be contaminated by a person with coronavirus.

“Why they even tested the dog is beyond me,” he added, saying that the chance of the virus having changed enough in such a rapid period of time to infect the dog - and then to re-infect humans - was “incredibly unlikely”.

British Veterinary Association President Daniella Dos Santos added that current advice was that “there is currently no evidence that pets can be infected with Covid-19 and this remains the case.”

Earlier this month, virologist Dr Niels Pederson from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in California, also suggested human-to-pet transmission was unlikely.

“The simple answer is as follows: No, you won’t get or give the coronavirus to your family pet,” he wrote in a blog.

“Coronaviruses occur in virtually every species of animal, including humans, and are commonly associated with unapparent or transient intestinal and respiratory infections. They tend to be very species specific and cross-species transmission is uncommon.”

Hong Kong has confirmed 94 cases of the new coronavirus in humans, with two deaths earlier this month.

The epidemic, which emerged in central China in December, has infected more than 83,000 people globally.