Authorities in northeastern Chinese city of Harbin killed three housecats that had tested positive for Covid-19 recently, over fears of further transmission of the virus to other residents. The incident led to a social media backlash with locals and experts calling it a "cruel" step as the country takes increasingly strict measures to contain new outbreaks.
The incident happened at Harbin which is the capital of Heilongjiang province. The owner tested positive for the virus on September 21 and went into isolation after leaving food and water out for the three cats. Shortly after, a community worker carried out tests on the cats and all three cats tested positive for the virus twice.
Harsh and Cruel Approach
Despite an online appeal by the owner, identified only as Miss Liu, the cats were put to sleep Tuesday evening. Officials stated that there was no cure for the viral contagion in animals. That would have endangered the pets' owners and other residents of the apartment complex they live in, The Associated Press reported, citing Beijing News.
In China, animal rights activists have also criticized the decision. They called for health authorities to offer a more ethical and standardized way to treat virus-infected animals.
Risk of Animals Spreading the Virus is "Considered to be Low"
Scientists have said there is no evidence yet that pets play a major role in spreading the virus to people.
"It doesn't seem very realistic that the cats would contaminate the environment so badly that they would be a risk for their owner to re-contract Covid," said Rachael Tarlinton, a virology professor at Britain's University of Nottingham, according to Reuters.
Dr Vanessa Barrs, a professor at City University of Hong Kong, said that there have been no confirmed reports of transmission of infection from cats to humans.
"So far, in the whole pandemic, there have been no confirmed reports of cat to human infection, unlike the situation with farmed mink in Europe, where transmission from Covid-19 infected mink to humans occurred," she said.
Social Media Reactions
Netizens have blasted the decision as an act of cruelty against life and a result of China's "fear-mongering about Covid-19."
One Twitter user wrote, "The human infected her cats, so China goes and kills the cats! China is barbaric! Go ahead foreigners, enjoy your visit to savage China during the Olympics. Just imagine that they'll do to you if you get infected while there." Another wrote, "What do you expect from communists?"
One comment read, "Should we be surprised? They don't even care about human rights." Another comment read, "Killing cats is small potatoes to a government that's committing genocide against its own people."
One user shared, "Nothing new, China kills and eats millions of dogs and cats...and apparently bats too." Another said, "So their gain of function experiments are being passed on to kitty cats."
"China is so ignorant. They killed dogs when there was a rabies epidemic too. Our animals deserve better China," shared one user.