The UK government considered whether it might have to ask people to exterminate all pet cats during the early days of the Covid pandemic, a former health minister said.
It was unclear whether domestic cats could transmit coronavirus, James Bethell said.
He told Channel 4 News: “What we shouldn’t forget is how little we understood about this disease. There was a moment we were very unclear about whether domestic pets could transmit the disease.
“In fact, there was an idea at one moment that we might have to ask the public to exterminate all the cats in Britain. Can you imagine what would have happened if we had wanted to do that?”
In July 2020, at the height of the Covid crisis, cat owners were warned not to kiss their pets after a female Siamese became the first known animal in the UK to catch the disease.
Margaret Hosie, a professor of comparative virology at Glasgow University who led the screening program, advised cat owners at the time to “observe very careful hygiene”.
It comes as Lord Bethell’s boss at the time, Matt Hancock, the former health secretary, is facing a series of claims based on a leaked cache of more than 100,000 WhatsApp messages.
The messages provide an insight into the way the UK government operated at the start of the pandemic. They include the suggestion that Hancock rejected advice from England’s chief medical officer, Prof Sir Chris Whitty, to test everyone going into care homes in England for Covid.
Hancock vehemently denies overruling clinical advice. A spokesperson called the claim “categorically untrue”.