There are 258 million cats in South Korea and one of them has COVID-19. A kitten from the peninsula has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the first-ever national case of a pet contracting the dreaded virus.
Mass outbreak of COVID-19 at religious site
The news was confirmed on Jan. 25, 2021 by South Korea Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, who said the kitten was found sick with COVID-19 after a recent tracking event at a religious site where a mass outbreak of infections was recorded.
Twenty-nine people were first confirmed to have gotten the virus after visiting the missionary school International Prayer Centre at the southern city of Jinju in South Gyeongsang Province. That number rose to over 100, prompting health officials to conduct a tracking process.
The infected kitten was identified as one of the three pet cats of a mother and daughter staying at the facility who also tested positive for COVID-19. Government health officials said the kitten probably got the virus from its owners as no cases of pet-to-human transmission of the virus have ever been reported worldwide.
The World Health Organization (WHO) also emphasized that while dogs and cats in contact with infected humans have tested positive for COVID-19, there are no evidence to date that they can transmit COVID-19 to humans.
Pets and COVID-19 in South Korea
Industry analyst Statista estimates the 2019 population of dogs and cats in South Korea to be almost 6 million and 2.6 million, respectively, translating into pet food sales worth just over US$1 billion.
Seeing South Koreans' strong affinity with pets, Chung thought it best to still direct the country's health experts and farm ministry to look into the possibility of transmissions between people and their pets and to prepare safety guidelines for pet owners.
The development of COVID-19 vaccines for pets is reportedly being considered by a group of scientists in the United Kingdom and the U.S. Russia is said to be close to completing clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine for domestic animals and minks and expects to begin the regulatory approval process in February 2021, according to Russia’s agricultural safety watchdog.
South Korea's total COVID-19 caseload as of February 16, 2021, is 84,325, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. The country has had recent setbacks in its initial vaccine rollout plan, citing production problems and efficacy concerns, and has dropped its first-quarter vaccination target from 1.3 million to less than 760,000, according to reports.