Should veterinary staff be classed as key workers during the coronavirus outbreak? Why?
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Should veterinary staff be classed as key workers during the coronavirus outbreak? Why?

Cats
Health & Safety

Coronavirus is a word that few of us had any familiarity with up until December of 2019, yet now it is a word that has become as unavoidable as – and has in fact essentially taken over from – Brexit.

As the pandemic begins to gain a foothold in the UK and we stand on the cusp of perhaps the most pivotal and important time in terms of the impact we can have on the course the virus takes, how fast it spreads, and how able the healthcare system is to cope with it, the UK begins to look at the key functions and services that are required to deliver healthcare and to keep the country itself operational. This involves the recognition of and support of so-called “key workers.”

Some roles are classed as key worker roles even when things are normal, and this includes things like medical personnel, the police, fire service and so on, and most of these are usually self-evident as essential to the functions of a civilised society. Others, on the other hand, can seem more obtuse until you get into the logistics of what a country needs in order to be able to keep working on a basic level.

However, these are far from normal times, and the government has drawn up a list of people who are considered to be key workers specifically in relation to the coronavirus epidemic; and it is totally reasonable for pet owners to wonder whether vets and veterinary staff make the list, with many simply assuming that they do; after all, veterinary care is essential healthcare for animals.

So, are veterinary staff classed as key workers? No, or at least, not at present.

Should they be? Well, quite possibly; although there is likely to be a lot of argument both for and against this. The emotional and mental health implications of being able to keep one’s pet healthy are important here, perhaps more so than ever at a time like now when the coronavirus situation is having a massive impact on society emotionally as well as physically; but there is more to consider here than just the emotional implications of an ability or otherwise to access veterinary care.

Veterinary staff are not classed as key workers; but perhaps they should be. This article will tell you why. Read on to learn more.

What are key workers?

Key workers in the present day are those that the government have determined are essential to helping to deal with the coronavirus outbreak, and to keep the country functioning.

There are eight categories of key workers, encompassing those you might expect like doctors and nurses, peripheral support such as other healthcare workers at every level, and some that might not seem so obvious; like people working in banks and supermarkets, and postal workers.

However, all of these very varied professions are vital to maintain the UK infrastructure, and support the functioning of civilised society.

“Religious staff” are also on the list of key workers, which comes as something of a shock to many, particularly given that veterinary staff are not key workers, and that religion isn’t something everyone participates in or assigns value to. However, even this makes sense when you dig deeper and place things in context; community leadership and support is vital for many people, and in very blunt terms, religious staff are usually those tasked with undertaking funeral services, the need for which is apt to rise given the spread of coronavirus through at-risk groups such as the elderly.

Are veterinary staff key workers?

Veterinary staff are not classed as key workers, because they are not deemed as providing services that are essential to human healthcare or maintaining the functional infrastructure of the country to keep it operational and support life. However, this is arguable; and there is a strong argument to be made for making vets, veterinary nurses, and auxiliary veterinary staff key workers.

Should veterinary staff be classed as key workers during the coronavirus outbreak?

There are a number of arguments to be made that vets should be key workers, and their support staff too. Here are the key reasons why veterinary staff should potentially be afforded key worker status.

Support for companionship and mental wellbeing

Much as one of the roles of those religious staff we mentioned as being on the key worker list is to support their communities in terms of emotional and mental wellbeing, pets do this for their owners too. Being unable to get healthcare for a pet would have a huge impact on these things for most people at the best of times, particularly during the coronavirus outbreak when for many, their pet is their only companion, and a true lifeline.

British farming and the food chain

British farming is one of our key industries, and the importance of supporting this is vital in the wake of Brexit, and even more so now that we’re much less able to rely on food imports from abroad during the coronavirus outbreak.

Keeping agriculture and farming going is a vital part of keeping Britain as a whole going; and this requires veterinary care. For everything from disease testing and prevention to food safety, veterinary care is integral to British farming, which is in turn integral to the functioning of the country’s infrastructure and the security of the food chain.

Diagnosis and prevention of zoonosis

There are not a huge number of health conditions that can be passed from animals of one species or another to people and back, but there are some; and these are called zoonotic conditions. Veterinary care is vital to be able to diagnose and cure zoonotic conditions in animals to prevent them being passed on to people, and this directly supports human healthcare, not just that of animals.

Additionally, there is a very acute and timely application for this too. New zoonotic conditions can and do develop from time to time, and recognising and identifying them is vital.

The human form of coronavirus and Covid 19 is very new, and while we know that pets don’t catch it (although there are animal-specific forms of coronavirus too) and so can’t pass it back and forth with humans, Covid 19 originated in a livestock market with an as-yet unknown animal species; and when it first infected a person, it proved an ability to jump the species divide for the first time.

It is possible that this could happen again; Covid 19 could mutate to infect one or more species of companion animals, and should this happen, knowing about it ASAP is vital in order for researchers to have a full picture of the virus and so, have the best chance of developing a vaccine and a cure, and also so that the public can take the relevant steps to protect themselves from exposure.

If this theoretical possibility did occur, it would almost certainly be veterinary staff that would identify cases in animals in the first instance, and follow reporting protocols to inform the appropriate agencies.

Disposal of bodies

Finally, whilst some people bury their own pets in their garden, most have larger pets like dogs and cats cremated when they lose them. It is veterinary clinics that store these corpses and arrange safe cremation; a vital service that would have public health implications were it not available.

Moral and ethical implications

Finally, there is the ethical and moral argument that keeping animals of any type without access to veterinary care for them is immoral and unethical, and a potential breach of any number of laws. Whether this would or could override the unusual circumstances and management methods developed to control and manage the coronavirus outbreak remains to be seen, but is another factor to bear in mind.

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