Govt considered culling all pet cats at the start of the pandemic in bid to prevent spreading, says ex-health minister

2 March 2023, 06:59

Ministers briefly considered ordering all domestic cats in Britain to be killed
Ministers briefly considered ordering all domestic cats in Britain to be killed. Picture: Alamy/Parliament UK

By Emma Soteriou

Ministers briefly considered ordering all domestic cats in Britain to be killed amid fears they could be spreading Covid, a former health minster has said.

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Lord Bethell said the concern about pets underlined how little was known about the disease at the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020.

He explained that evidence had surfaced around possible transmission so the scenario had to be "investigated and closed down".

"What we shouldn't forget is how little we understood about this disease," Lord Bethell said.

"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."

He told Channel 4 News: "Can you imagine what would have happened if we had wanted to do that?"

"And yet, for a moment there was a bit of evidence around that so that had to be investigated and closed down."

Read more: Exclusive: Matt Hancock told to quit as MP after WhatsApp messages over care home Covid tests leak

Read more: Matt Hancock denies claim he ignored Chris Whitty's advice on care home testing after damaging messages leaked

Lord Bethell was Matt Hancock's deputy in the Department of Health
Lord Bethell was Matt Hancock's deputy in the Department of Health. Picture: UK Government

Lord Bethell was Matt Hancock's deputy in the Department of Health and Social from 2020 to 2021.

His comments came after the Telegraph began publishing details of tens of thousands of leaked Whatsapp messages exchanged between Mr Hancock and other senior figures during the pandemic.

Messages also revealed that Matt Hancock was reportedly involved in a behind-the-scenes clash with then-education secretary Sir Gavin Williamson over moves to keep classrooms open.

Mr Hancock mounted a “rearguard action” to close schools despite Sir Gavin fighting “tooth and nail” to keep them open.

Meanwhile, the outlet also revealed that Mr Hancock had rejected the advice of Sir Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, to test all residents going into care homes a month into the pandemic.

The MP denied the "distorted account" with a spokesman alleging the messages leaked by journalist Isabel Oakeshott after she worked on his Pandemic Diaries memoir have been "spun to fit an anti-lockdown agenda".

A spokesperson for Mr Hancock added the messages had been "doctored".

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