The Australian Veterinary Association (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.
So far, veterinary services have not been mentioned in either of the government’s two statements on which particular services were designated ‘non-essential’ and would be required to shut down.
“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 acknowledgement of our ‘essential’ status so we can continue to maintain animal health and welfare without interruption,” said AVA President, Dr Julia Crawford.
Veterinarians provide critical services for the care and treatment of all species of animals, including companion animals, equine, wildlife, aquatic animals and livestock. They are pivotal in contributing to public health and biosecurity systems – which is of the utmost importance at the present time. Veterinarians 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 whose support ensure veterinarians can continue to perform their important work.
The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Veterinary Association (WVA) released a joint statement on March 18, advocating 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’.
“The ability of the veterinary profession, in its many forms, to continue to provide our vital work must be preserved,” said Dr Crawford. “The welfare of our country’s animals should not be abandoned during the pandemic.”
Veterinarians play an important role in Australia’s economy through food safety and security. Government veterinarians and other approved vets fulfil many critical roles in the livestock supply chain that enable animals to be transported, transacted and processed for protein production in both domestic and export markets. It is essential that these roles can continue to be performed right throughout any COVID-19 shutdown so that food safety and security are both protected.
Private livestock veterinarians provide vital services that assist in optimising productivity and commodity quality in production animals. These services are time-critical and cannot be deferred without potentially serious consequences to the human food chain. Maintaining meat supplies through abattoirs, as well as dairy, eggs and other livestock commodities must be a high priority. Food safety and security must not be compromised.
“Our domestic and international markets will expect that welfare standards in livestock production will be maintained at all times, vets have a major part to play in ensuring the continuity of food supply and product integrity in the livestock supply chain,” said Dr Crawford.
“This is well recognised in response policies for other emergency contexts, such as the recent bushfire crisis, food security and integrity must be maintained at this critical time.”
Veterinarians currently 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 concurrent human pandemic and an EAD, 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,” said Dr Crawford. “Australia cannot afford catastrophic animal health or welfare incidents to occur at a time when public health is already critically challenged.”
The AVA call on the government to provide immediate assurance that veterinarians in private practice, regulatory, inspection, advisory, industry and research roles will be classified as essential service providers in the event of any shutdown.
“The country needs our vet teams,” said Dr Crawford. “Now more than ever,”