This morning, news from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) let loose a barrage of panic. Dog owners in Hong Kong woke up to headlines about a dog in Hong Kong having tested as a ‘weak positive’ for Covid-19, or with ‘low level’ of coronavirus.
The crucial piece of the news is that there is no evidence that dogs can contract or spread Covid-19, and that this could be a false positive.
In this time of uncertainty when everyone is eagerly lapping up every piece of Covid-19 news they can, when rumours fly and panic is quick to set in, it is important to read beyond the headlines. There can be limitations to what any news outlet can fit into a headline, and news from a government agency does need coverage, but it is up to us to read fully and carefully instead of sharing just the headlines without context.
It is necessary for us to pause, digest, and avoid sudden reactions. Hong Kong is already in a state of panic over the past several weeks, and all of us must remember to rely on verifiable evidence and tamp down panic, instead of ramping it up without cause.
In this case, panic over dogs contracting or spreading Covid-19 could cause a great deal of suffering. Dogs get abandoned in times of panic, or worse, murdered. Stigma is quick to seep in with public health issues. People could stigmatise those with dogs, or hurt dogs if they are seen as any sort of threat to health.
We must emphasise that there is currently no verifiable evidence that dogs have contracted or transmitted Covid-19. Besides AFCD, the World Health Organisation also states that there is no evidence of this. Given the lack of evidence, there is no current threat to dogs, or humans around dogs. If and when AFCD releases further statements like these, it behoves every member of the public and the media to properly contextualise it, front and centre.
We all owe it to ourselves to care for the vulnerable in Hong Kong in this time of need, and that includes dogs, who are often the victims of abuse, panic-induced and otherwise.