What can veterinarians worldwide learn from the COVID-19 outbreak in China?


Nis Peter Lorentzen

What can veterinarians worldwide learn from the COVID-19 outbreak in China?


The Coronavirus outbreak started in China – so China will be the first to stop it! The number of new cases in China has dropped to nearly zero now. 

The outbreak started in Wuhan in December 2019, but it was kept secret until mid/late January, at which time it had gotten out of control, and infected hospital patients and medical staff. About 40% of all infections happened in hospitals because people did not know it was a new virus. 

The entire Chinese population of 1.4B people has stopped all social interactions, closing schools and most businesses, effectively stopping the spread of the virus. While this has been effective, the economic cost has been enormous. The travel, restaurant and retail service industries are decimated, and manufacturing and supply chain industries are severely impacted, resulting in an overall economic slump.   

The only businesses that benefited from the virus outbreak (besides face-mask suppliers) are e-commerce, video conference, online gaming and movie streaming companies.

Veterinary industry comments

Veterinary hospitals in China are impacted, but not as severely as many other service providers. Authorities rightly stated that medical services for animals must continue unimpeded, to maintain general health and welfare of animals and humans. We are seeing an average of 15%-30% revenue decline in the veterinary field, as pet owners delay routine veterinary visits. The specialty veterinary hospitals handling serious illnesses obviously experienced less of a decline in revenue compared to first-opinion clinics.

Private Equity (PE) backed corporate clinic groups are depending on acquisitions for revenue growth, and the virus outbreak in China caused a complete halt in acquisitions as they focus on the negative operational impact on their existing clinics. Some clinic groups started discounting of pet food, and sales of heavily discounted pre-paid pet membership plans, in order to liquidate inventories and raise cash.

On February 28, 2020, a spokesman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) in Hong Kong said that a pet dog had been tested weak positive to COVID-19 virus. At present, the AFCD does not have evidence that pet animals can be infected with COVID-19 virus or can be a source of infection to people. This press release has caused some confusion, and there is some concern that this could cause mass panic if people get the idea that pets can get infected by the virus. Most people do not know anything about species-specific viruses, and the very low probability of cross-species infections. All veterinarians are encouraged to share information with pet owners and the general public about this matter.    

What can veterinarians worldwide learn from the COVID-19 outbreak in China? 

The virus outbreak is now taking place around the world, and other nations and its people can learn a lot from the experience in China over the past 3 months. 

What not to do:

  • Keep the outbreak secret until it’s out of control.
  • Over-react at the late stage of the outbreak, lifting draconian measures too late when the economy has come to a near-complete standstill.
  • Run to the hospital with flue-like symptoms, risking spreading the virus to vulnerable sick people and medical personnel.
  • Panic. This is not the first new virus, nor will it be the last. The incubation time is usually up to a week, and most people recover quickly.
  • Don’t overdose on virus news. Chinese people monitor 8 hours of virus news per day, and end up depressed or in a state of irrational panic.

What to do:

  • Self-quarantine at home with any flue-like symptoms.
  • Delay unnecessary or non-urgent social events, and maintain “social distancing”.
  • Delay visits to relatives in elder-care facilities and hospitals.
  • Keep the business and economy going, using conference calls and tele-commuting if possible.
  • Veterinary clinics can offer video consultation for pet owners. The video consultation companies have seen a surge of interest in their app-based technologies. However this takes time to set up, so be prepared ahead of time. Home delivery of pet food and medication refills is also seeing a surge, and veterinary clinics can offer home delivery within their own local area. 

Additional information links 

Conference call with a Coronavirus expert

On February 6, 2020, CLSA (an investment bank in Asia) held a Conference call with Coronavirus expert, Professor John Nicholls. This call took place almost 6 weeks ago, relatively early in the outbreak in China. It may be interesting for people around the world to read this interview, because the rest of the world is now in a similar early stage of the virus outbreak.

Professor John Nicholls is a clinical professor in pathology at the University of Hong Kong and an expert on coronaviruses. He was a key member of the research team at the University of Hong Kong which isolated and characterized the novel SARS coronavirus in 2003. He’s been studying coronaviruses for 25 years. Below are the notes transcribing the call.

Quick summary: Look at the fatality rate outside of Wuhan - it’s below 1%. The correct comparison is not SARS or MERS but a bad cold which kills people who already have other health issues. This virus will burn itself out in May when temperatures rise.

Link to the Q&A Session with Professor Nicholls:

Dogs and COVID-19 virus

Detection of low level of COVID-19 virus in pet dog

Friday, February 28, 2020

At present, the AFCD does not have evidence that pet animals can be infected with COVID-19 virus or can be a source of infection to people.

Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD)

The Government of the Hong Kong SAR

World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA)

Latest update on the COVID-19 virus:

Kind regards

Nis Peter Lorentzen
Country Manager
VetFamily China

Telemarketing for veterinary clinics

If anyone has any questions about how to deploy telemedicine in practice, please feel free to reach out to our Non-Executive Director Thom Jenkins - Co-founder and CEO of PetsApp a telemedicine platform for veterinary clinics.

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