Aust vets call for “essential service” designation during Covid-19 lockdown

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Veterinary services in several countries and states have been deemed essential services during the Covid-19 pandemic sweeping the world, and Australia is fighting for the same designation.

A joint statement last week by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Veterinary Association (WVA) advocated for the absolute requirement that veterinarians worldwide be designated as essential service providers in the context of the COVID 19 pandemic. Numerous European countries, US States and New Zealand have already recognised and formalised veterinary services as “essential”.

So far, veterinary services have not been mentioned in either of the Australian government’s two statements on which particular services were designated ‘non-essential’ and would be required to shut down, the Australian Veterinary Association said on Wednesday.

“GP clinics and pharmacies were confirmed to be essential from the onset, as they rightly should be, but veterinary services have been left in the lurch — we urgently need acknowledgment of our ‘essential’ status so we can continue to maintain animal health and welfare without interruption,” said AVA President, Dr Julia Crawford.

The AVA is calling on the federal government to acknowledge the important role veterinarians play in society following Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement of a lockdown on ‘non-essential’ businesses and services to curb the spread of the Covid-19.

Veterinarians provide critical services for the care and treatment of all species of animals and are pivotal in contributing to public health and biosecurity systems. They also have a very specific role in public health at this time, assessing and interpreting the role of animals in Covid-19 and providing surveillance for other potential zoonoses. Equally essential are the broader industry including veterinary nurses, laboratories, pharmaceutical and equipment suppliers and other allied services.

“The ability of the veterinary profession, in its many forms, to continue to provide our vital work must be preserved,” Crawford said. “The welfare of our country’s animals should not be abandoned during the pandemic.”

Crawford said that veterinarians also hold a key role in protecting Australia from another global pandemic moving increasingly closer to our borders: African Swine Fever. “If Australia were to be confronted by a concurrent human pandemic and an EAD (Emergency Animal Disease), the scale of the impact on our economy would be unprecedented. Australia must be able to retain veterinary EAD and endemic disease detection and response capacity before, during and after the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Australia cannot afford catastrophic animal health or welfare incidents to occur at a time when public health is already critically challenged,” Crawford said.

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