The coronavirus (COVID-19) is changing the world, as nations struggle to prevent the virus from continuing to spread. As I write this, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States approaches 4,000. There have been more than 6,000 fatalities worldwide.
COVID-19 has officially been classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), which has asked for calm and clarity from the public.
“Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly, said Dr. Tedros Adhanom, WHO director-general, at a media briefing. “It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.”
There is uncertainty regarding how COVID-19 will affect business activities. However, we already know that the virus has had a major impact on the pet industry.
Global Pet Expo, which took place in February, saw a noticeable drop in numbers, both for exhibitors and attendees. Yet I observed steady activity in the Boutique and Natural Pet areas of the trade show floor all three days of the expo.
COVID-19 has caused the postponement of Kinship summit, which was originally scheduled to take place May 6-7 in New York, to September. It has also forced World Pet Association to cancel the 2020 America’s Family Pet Expo that was set for the last week of April in Costa Mesa, California.
How the disease interacts with animals, including pets, is an unknown. According to a report from World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), a dog in Hong Kong was placed under quarantine in February after its owner was hospitalized due to being infected by COVID-19. The dog tested positive for the virus (SARS-CoV-2) while not showing any clinical signs of the disease (COVID-19). There’s no evidence that dogs can spread the disease or that it can cause an animal to fall ill, and OIE is conducting further studies to understand if and how animals could be affected by the virus. The intergovernmental organization advises pet owners infected or susceptible of being infected to avoid close contact with their pets or maintain good hygiene practices and wear a mask if possible.
As Dr. Adhanom explained, we cannot live in fear. While we should be careful, every attempt should be made to prevent concern from turning into panic, hysteria and loss of control. As we have seen with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and H1N1 swine flu, we will overcome this.
We should follow the guidelines and reliable information being provided by WHO. Also, do not forget that collaboration and trust is important for members of the pet industry to address COVID-19 and how it can impact manufacturers, distributors, veterinarians, groomers and other pet professionals. As with any threat, we need to protect our fellow humans as well as the companion animals that depend on us. And in order to do that, we must work together.
As Dr. Adhanom has stated, “This is time for solidarity, not stigma.”
Glenn A. Polyn