As vets, we are used to dealing with, managing and preventing disease. We have three experienced epidemiologists on our team, who understand disease patterns, transmission risks, risk factors and other aspects of disease. All of this is useful when giving advice around Covid-19.
First, the risk of anyone catching Covid-19 is low globally. In rural New Zealand, this risk is even lower. But it isn’t zero.
However, the risk of serious disease if you do catch it is also low. But it rises significantly as you get older (particularly over 55) or if you have other chronic disease, especially lung or heart disease or diabetes.
It’s also quite hard to catch. Corona viruses are sensitive to heat, sunlight, drying and most disinfectants. They don’t last very long in the environment (<2-3 days), unlike other viruses which may last for weeks.
Finally - this is a new and therefore dynamic disease. Information will change. Keep an eye on the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) website which has great links and up to date info.
You cannot catch Covid-19 from your pets. You are extremely unlikely to infect your pets - there is one possible case known at this stage in an infected household in Hong Kong, but it is being retested. In this case the animal did not get sick, and isn't contagious to people.
That said, it’s a good time to remind you that, whilst we love our pets and they’re very affectionate, you shouldn’t let them lick your face or kiss you, and you should observe common sense hygiene such as washing hands regularly, and particularly before eating etc. As usual keep your pet’s vaccinations and parasite treatments (including wormings) up to date to keep their general health up.
On the farm
The risks to farmers are very low as interactions with others are low. There is no risk to stock. Potentially, visitors are a risk but this risk is dependent on that individual’s specific profile and is unlikely to be greater if you meet them on farm as opposed to in town. Still its a good opportunity to apply good hygiene practices.
In the clinic
Any place where people meet or pass through has a higher risk (for example, international airports are very high risk), so potentially the front counter where people congregate and pass is a small risk. We are putting our supply of medicated teatwipes to good use and keeping counters clean and disinfected regularly; along with good hand hygiene.
Compared to most businesses we rarely handle cash - most clients have accounts. Cash is a potential risk of transmission, but still needs to be kept in context.
We have a number of international staff, as do many businesses, and we also have staff who travel internationally. All of our new international staff arrived in NZ prior to the end of last year (almost exclusively from Oz and UK) and so prior to the Covid-19 risk period. We are keeping a watching brief on any potential new recruits (again all from NZ, UK, NL, and OZ) and so obviously won’t allow them to start if these countries are deemed high risk by the Ministry of Health..
We’ve advised our staff re international and domestic travel that we don’t consider the risks from travelling through and around most countries (other than the known risk countries of Iran, Italy, China, Korea) particularly great, and certainly we aren’t at this stage banning our staff from travel.
We do have staff that occasionally go and participate in international conferences - there is an international vet conference in Auckland for example coming up - and we’re keeping a watching brief on these and liaising with the organisers. The Auckland conference is made up of 80% kiwis attending - so whilst it is a risk the risk is still not huge, and many of the overseas people are now not travelling.
We’ve also advised our staff not to come to work if they feel sick. We’re no different to most people - we like to soldier on and get the job done, regardless of how we feel. So we’ve reminded staff that this isn’t expected and is unfair on colleagues and clients. We don’t think this will impact our services but please be understanding if for any reason we can’t provide services exactly when you may want them.
Animal Health Products
There is a reasonable risk to our supply chain. Obviously, a large amount of global trade has ceased - particularly to and from China. It is possible that some medicines and products may be difficult to source for periods. Because most of our clients are well organized and we have strong supply chain partnerships to help you manage preventive animal health as best we can, we have pretty good advanced inventory. But it is worth checking in with your Keyvet and considering planning in advance for critical animal health requirements.
- Facemasks are almost always likely to be useless. Leave them for builders and health care workers.
- Soap is as effective as hand sanitisers.
- The impact of containment and management will likely be way more significant for you, your household and your business than the virus itself.
- So consider supply chain issues, travel disruption, and market disruption when you consider what impact this will have on you personally.
- Be compassionate, this isn't anyone's fault (just like the floods and drought), and will take the whole community to protect us.
- Mostly, look out for our elderly and at risk relatives and neighbours. These are the people most at risk and possibly less likely to have access to up to date online information. Maybe offer to shop or run errands for them to minimize their risk of contact with potentially infected people.