Dog owners should not be worried about their pets catching the coronavirus despite reports of a pomeranian testing positive in Hong Kong, experts say.
Government officials in the Chinese territory yesterday confirmed the small canine tested ‘weak positive’ for the strain in nasal and oral swabs.
The pooch did not show any symptoms of the virus but was taken into quarantine for further exams, according to Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD).
But leading scientists in Britain said it was ‘incredibly irresponsible’ to make the news public because there was no evidence to suggest the dog actually has the virus.
They said it was more likely that any positive test had simply picked up presence of the strain from the animal’s fur rather than actually in its bloodstream.
Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, said: ‘There is no evidence that the human novel coronavirus can infect dogs and it would be incredible for a virus to make so many species jumps in such a short space of time.
‘We have to differentiate between real infection and just detecting the presence of a virus – these are very different – and the fact that the test result was weakly positive would suggest that this is environmental contamination or simply the presence of coronavirus shed from the human contact that has ended up in the dog’s samples.
‘In truth this is incredibly irresponsible because the last thing we need to do is create mass hysteria about the possibility of dogs being infected, and therefore potentially transmitting this virus when there is absolutely no evidence for this whatsoever.’
The AFCD has since admitted more samples need to be collected and tested before they can confirm whether the dog has been infected.
It added that previous samples could have been subject to environmental contamination.
Reports yesterday claimed the pomeranian caught the virus from its 60-year-old businesswoman owner Yvonne Chow Hau Yee.
But leading vets assured British dog owners they had nothing to worry about it.
British Veterinary Association President Daniella Dos Santos said: ‘The current advice from the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) remains that the predominant route of transmission is human to human.
‘Further advice from the World Small Animal Veterinary Association is that there is currently no evidence that pets can be infected with Covid-19 and this remains the case at the time of commenting on Friday 28 February (11.30am).
‘The reported case of the Pomeranian dog in Hong Kong is undergoing further tests and it would be inappropriate to speculate until we know more.
‘These tests should be able to determine whether the dog tested positive due to environmental contamination from the infected owner.
‘Our advice to vets and pet owners is to follow Public Health England and NHS advice and guidance.’
It comes as Britain is on red alert amid the coronavirus scare after six new coronavirus patients were confirmed in the UK in the space of 24 hours.
Countries have been enforcing radically different containment strategies in a desperate scramble to contain the outbreak.
China has enforced some sort of travel restrictions on 700 million of its people to control the spread.
Some of the strictest measures can be found in four cities in Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak.
Residents in the region are on strict curfews and can only leave their homes a few times a week to buy food.
Elsewhere, Japan has closed its schools for at least a month, while Iran has canceled Friday Prayers in major cities and Saudi Arabia banned pilgrims from its holiest sites.
Switzerland has banned all events involving more than 1,000 people until at least March 15.
Nigeria also confirmed the first case of the virus in Sub-Saharan Africa on Friday, in a patient who had flown to the megacity of Lagos.
The country was among among several to confirm their first cases in recent hours including the likes of Estonia, Denmark, the Netherlands and Lithuania.
The majority of those countries reported the infection in a person who had travelled to Italy, including the first patient diagnosed in Mexico.
Meanwhile the first Briton to die from coronavirus was recorded today – a man who was on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Japan.
The man was among 78 Britons quarantined on the cruise liner which became one of the world’s largest clusters of virus cases.