Coronavirus Frequently Asked Questions

We've collated some of our most frequently asked questions on coronavirus to help you find the information you're looking for. These questions cover guidance for veterinary professionals, advice for students and the most common questions from pet owners and farmers. 

Jump to:

In the workplace
Travel and quarantine
Medicines
Vulnerable groups
Students
Mental health
Animal owners and breeders

In the workplace

What should I do now as restrictions are removed?

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland legal restrictions remain in place. You can refer to BVA guidance on working safely as lockdown restrictions are eased.

On 19 July most legal restrictions in England were lifted under Step 4 of the roadmap. However, veterinary workplaces still have a duty to work safely for staff, clients, and visitors.

Continue to risk assess and, where possible, work in a manner that reduces close contact in line with government guidance. Even where face coverings are no longer a legal requirement you can require clients to wear a face covering, unless exempt for medical reasons, as part of your terms of business.

We know that practice teams have been working incredibly hard in difficult circumstances over the past 18 months, and we also know that heavy workloads continue to put teams under pressure. Employers should be aware of the importance of supporting all employees’ mental health and wellbeing and should encourage and facilitate team members to take leave and breaks.

Where do I find previous BVA guidance? You can access previous guidance for veterinary professionals:

You can also access the archive of our webinars on Covid-19 and the veterinary profession, run in partnership with The Webinar Vet. 

What are the self-isolation rules for vets when it comes to the ‘pingdemic’?

England

On application from employers, named individuals in certain sectors, including ‘food production and supply’, ‘veterinary medicines’, and 'veterinary practices' may be able to leave self-isolation in order to work, subject to a number of requirements. Defra has defined those that may have a reasonable excuse to leave self-isolation, subject to meeting the requirements, as follows:

Agri-food chain
  • Official Vets, Meat Hygiene Inspectors, Poultry Health Inspectors, Environmental Health Officers and Certifying Support Officers necessary for preventing immediate risk to food safety or animal welfare in processing plants, subject to all other mitigation options being exhausted 
Veterinary medicines
  • Batch testing laboratory staff and Qualified Persons essential to the batch release of medicines, subject to all other mitigation options being exhausted
  • Laboratory staff essential to the production of veterinary medicines, subject to all other mitigation options being exhausted
Incident response and prevention
  • Government vets and Official Veterinarians responding to animal disease outbreaks or cases of serious animal health/welfare concern, subject to all other mitigations being exhausted
Veterinary practices
  • Specialist veterinary workers in veterinary practices and at locations of large animals, farms, studs, etc. without whom there would be an immediate disruption to essential services, subject to all other mitigations being exhausted

Initially small animal vets managing emergency and out of hours work were not included in the official lists. However, the category of ‘veterinary practices’ has now been included (since 29 July) which covers all types of veterinary practice. For small animal work we understand that this means in exceptional circumstances where animal health and welfare would be compromised and where all other options have been exhausted (including working with neighbouring practices).

To make an application, employers must complete the form for each role that requires a letter of reasonable excuse. If you need more information or have a query about submitting this request form, please email [email protected]. Read the reasonable excuse process.

NOTE: The process applies in England only, and only to named individuals who have been identified as close contacts and asked to self-isolate at the time of the request. It cannot be used to pre-emptively request reasonable excuse letters for staff in case they are asked to self-isolate at a future date.

Scotland

Employers can apply for exemptions for named individuals, subject to meeting certain requirements, by emailing [email protected] setting out your request covering a number of specific factors. See the full details of the process for further information.

Businesses can apply for the scheme if they are classed as a Critical National Infrastructure and meet a number of other requirements. National infrastructure sectors include “food” and the critical element is defined as whether the person’s absence would be likely to lead to the loss or compromise of this infrastructure resulting in one or both of the following:

  • major detrimental impact on the availability, integrity or delivery of essential services—including those services whose integrity, if compromised, could result in significant loss of life or casualties
  • significant impact on national security, national defence, or the functioning of the state

We are waiting to hear if further detailed guidance will be provided for the veterinary sector.

Wales and Northern Ireland

On 29 July Welsh Government announced that from 7 August the requirement to self-isolate will be removed for people who are fully vaccinated – after 14 days has elapsed.

We are awaiting further information about any schemes in Northern Ireland and will provide further updates as soon as possible.

Do we need to wear face coverings?

Although legal restrictions have lifted in England, the guidance includes provisions for safe working, including carrying out risk assessments and reducing close contact. Businesses can continue to ask staff and clients to wear face coverings, unless exempt, under their own policies.

Face coverings continue to be a legal requirement in Scotland, Wales, and NI.

What is the advice regarding contact tracing, use of PPE and self-isolation?

Vets are not exempt from contact tracing in any part of the UK. If a member of your team tests positive for Covid-19, team members who are classed as contacts will be required to self-isolate.

However, if vets have been using appropriate PPE in situations where they are unable to limit close contact, this may be taken into account by contact tracers. If you receive a close contact alert advising you to self-isolate, but believe you have been using appropriate PPE, you can call the National COVID helpline (0800 028 2816) to help you understand the exposure notification and make an informed decision as to whether to self-isolate.

If a person in my team develops Coronavirus symptoms and self-isolates, does the rest of the team need to self-isolate?

No. Only people who share a home with someone who is demonstrating symptoms of Coronavirus are required to self-isolate alongside them.

Read government guidance on self-isolating.

How should I approach a case with suspected clinical signs of coronavirus?

There is limited evidence that some animals, including pets, can contract coronavirus. Cases in pet animals are very rare, and at present the evidence suggests that SARS-Cov-2:

  • may pass from infected humans to certain pets such as cats and ferrets following close contact
  • does not easily pass between cats or most other pets, but this cannot be ruled out
  • may pass between ferrets and humans based on the evidence from mink infections, but this is very unlikely in domestic pets

However it is extremely important to reiterate that according to the OIE, the current pandemic is being sustained through human-to-human transmission, and there is no evidence that animals are playing a significant role in the spread of Covid-19.

If a pet animal is presenting with clinical signs, you should continue to pursue symptomatic treatment for clinical signs as normal and test for common respiratory pathogens .Read the APHA Briefing Note 10/20 Advice for Veterinarians and their Clients on Pets and COVID-19 in full.

NOTE: There is now a legal obligation to report the presence of Covid-19 in all mammals other than man. To report SARS-CoV-2 in England please call the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301.  In Wales, contact 0300 303 8268. In Scotland, contact your local Field Services Office. In Northern Ireland, contact DAERA on 0300 200 7840 / 0300 2007852 or contact your local Divisional Veterinary Office.

The UK Government advises that private testing should only be considered in animals which meet all four of the following criteria:

  1. The animal is a Felid, Canid or Mustelid.
  2. It is exhibiting a combination of the following clinical signs as determined by a veterinary professional:
    1. respiratory infection
    2. gastrointestinal infection
    3. fever
  3. other common diagnoses have been considered and discounted as determined by a veterinary professional.
  4. the animal has had confirmed contact with a suspect or known human case of COVID-19 within three weeks of developing clinical signs.

Read the APHA Briefing Note 18/20 SARS-CoV-2 in Animals – Case Definition, Testing and International Reporting Obligations

Please note that when handling wildlife you should be aware of the guidance Coronavirus (COVID-19): surveying and mitigation works affecting wildlife

Travel and quarantine 

Are vets exempted from border quarantine?

There are some exemptions to the UK border rules which can apply to some veterinary surgeons. Note that being classed as a key worker does not automatically qualify you as exempt from the quarantine rules.

The quarantine requirements and exemptions are different for each of the countries of the UK, and depend on whether you are returning from a Green, Amber or Red list country:

England – Official Veterinarians and vets working in the food supply chain fall into the category of ‘Specialist technical workers – goods and services’ and may qualify for exemption from quarantine. There are also exemptions in place for quality assurance inspectors for human and veterinary medicines, and qualified persons and responsible persons for human and veterinary medicines, clinical trials, clinical investigations and pharmacovigilance. Other vets (eg companion animal vets) are not exempt. Quarantine exemptions are different depending on whether the country you are returning from is on the Green, Amber or Red list. Please refer to the full list of exemptions and requirements on the government website.

Wales - There are exemptions in place for certain veterinary professionals, including those involved in the production, supply, movement, manufacture, storage or preservation of goods; those involved in veterinary medicines for the purposes of clinical trials; and those involved in veterinary medicines for the purposes of quality assurance. Quarantine exemptions are different depending on whether the country you are returning from is on the Green, Amber or Red list. Please refer to the full list of exemptions and requirements on the Welsh government website.

Scotland- If you arrive from a country on the Amber list, veterinary professionals undertaking certain specific roles are only allowed to leave isolation if you are taking part in an essential activity: those involved in the continued production, supply, movement, manufacture, storage or preservation of goods (vets working in the food supply chain); qualified persons and responsible persons for human and veterinary medicines, clinical trials, clinical investigations, and human pharmacovigilance; and quality assurance inspectors for human and veterinary medicines. You must self-isolate when you are not at, or travelling to and from, a place where you are required to work. Please refer to the full list of exemptions and requirements on the Scottish Government website

Northern Ireland - The categories of veterinary professionals exempt from quarantine mirror those exempt for England, namely Official Veterinarians and vets working in the food supply chain, who fall into the category of ‘Specialist technical workers – goods and services’. Quarantine exemptions are different depending on whether the country you are returning from is on the Green, Amber or Red list. Please refer to the full list of exemptions and requirements on the NI government website.

In addition, please refer to your employer’s protocols for the interpretation of legislation for your specific work and personal situation.

Medicines

Can I prescribe without seeing the patient?

Under normal circumstances, this is not permitted by the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct. However, during the pandemic, RCVS Council has agreed a temporary departure from this position. Read the RCVS guidelines.

Vulnerable groups

What should I do if I'm in a vulnerable group?

Information and advice for people in vulnerable groups, including older people, people with health conditions and those who are pregnant, is available via the NHS.

I’m pregnant. What are the risks and what are my rights?

Pregnant people are in the moderate risk (clinically vulnerable) group designated by government as a precaution and are advised to socially distance themselves and receive Statutory Sick Pay on the production of a fit note. Reg.16 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 imposes a duty on employers to conduct a risk assessment if working conditions could involve risk to a new or expectant mother or their baby. If the assessment reveals any risk to an employee, or their baby, the employer must follow a series of steps to ensure that they are not exposed to the risk or damaged by it. Given that government advice is for pregnant workers to work from home where possible, your employer should take all steps to make this possible.

It may be possible for you to do some work from home, for example triaging calls. BVA members can also speak to the legal advice line, which is a free of charge service available 24/7. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists provides detailed advice on pregnancy and Covid-19.

Students

I’m concerned I may not be able to fulfil my EMS requirements due to Covid-19 restrictions, what should I do?

Read RCVS guidance on temporary EMS requirements.

Read the VSC statement on schools’ responses to Covid-19.

All students have access to the BVA Carpool Cases online EMS series, which has been accepted by most of the UK vet schools and certificates are available. In addition, the RCVS has a useful list of online pre-clinical EMS resources.

Mental Health

How do I protect my mental wellbeing at this difficult time?

Take a look at the Vetlife website for tips on self-care and read the Vetlife Covid-19 FAQs for the veterinary community. Charities such as Mind also have helpful tips on maintaining positive mental wellbeing. The RCVS Mind Matters Initiative is also offering a range of online wellbeing resources to support the veterinary team.

What do I do if I have a concern about my own, or a colleague’s mental health?

Take a look at the Vetlife website for tips on dealing with stress, anxiety and depression. If you need to speak to someone in confidence Vetlife Helpline is available 24 hours a day, every day of the year, on 0303 040 2551 or you can send an anonymous email via the website. Support is also available via Vet Support NI and Vet Support Scotland.

Animal owners and breeders

Are vet practices open?

Vet practices have remained open throughout the pandemic but may have had to reduce their services in order to balance animal health and welfare, public health, your safety and the safety of their teams. As always, decisions will vary between practices and in different parts of the country.

You may be asked to wear a face covering or meet physical distancing requirements, even if this is no longer a legal requirement.

We’re asking the public to respect their veterinary teams and understand that they are doing their very best with a challenging workload.

 Can my pet contract coronavirus and pass it to humans?

There is limited evidence that some animals, including pets, can contract coronavirus. Cases in pet animals are very rare, and at present the evidence suggests that coronavirus:

  • may pass from infected humans to certain pets such as cats and ferrets following close contact
  • does not easily pass between cats or most other pets, but this cannot be ruled out
  • may pass between ferrets and humans based on the evidence from mink infections

If you suspect your pet has contracted coronavirus your vet will need to rule out other causes for their symptoms first.

It is extremely important to reiterate that according to the OIE, the current pandemic is being sustained through human-to-human transmission, and there is no evidence that animals are playing a significant role in the spread of Covid-19.

It is the case that animals may act as “fomites” (ie surfaces where the virus may be picked up via touch), as the virus could be on their fur for a short period of time in the same way it is on other surfaces, such as tables and doorknobs. In line with public health guidance, you should:

  • wash your hands before and after any contact with your pet, its food and bedding
  • not share food with your pet
  • avoid contact such as kissing or cuddling if you are self-isolating

There is no evidence that you need to wash your pets to control the spread of coronavirus. Only wash or use products on your pets that are approved for use on animals.

NOTE: There is now a legal obligation to report the presence of Covid-19 in all mammals other than humans. Your vet will let you know if this is what they need to do.

How should I care for my pets if I have symptoms of or have confirmed Covid-19?

The OIE recommends that people who are suspected or confirmed to be infected with the Covid-19 virus should minimise close direct contact with animals. Read the OIE Questions and answers on the novel Coronavirus in full.

Government advice is that owners of pets in households with confirmed or suspected Covid-19, who think their pet may need veterinary treatment, should make contact with the practice first and alert them to the household’s status. Read the Defra Covid-19 advice for people with animals.

What is the updated advice for ferret owners?

Ferrets are known to be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes Covid-19. As a precautionary measure, the UK governments are advising that if you own a ferret, you must isolate your ferret for 21 days if:

  • you or your household are self-isolating (owners do not need to isolate for 21days and should complete the regular 10 day isolation period, however your ferret must stay indoors until their specific three week (21 day) isolation period is complete.)
  • You’ve recently travelled with your ferret into the UK from certain countries. Read the specific government guidance for ferret owners and travel in EnglandWalesScotland, and Northern Ireland.

Isolation means avoiding contact with either ferrets or people from other households (eg. taking your ferret for walks). If your ferret needs emergency veterinary care, you can arrange to have it taken to the vet but you should notify your veterinary practice of the situation.

In line with public health guidance, you should:

  • wash your hands before and after any contact with your pet, its food and bedding
  • not share food with your pet
  • avoid contact such as kissing or cuddling if you are self-isolating

Read APHA’s Guidance on Preventative Measures regarding SARs-CoV-2 and Ferrets in the UK

If you are self-isolating for Covid-19, the Scottish Government also advise that you should ask someone else to care for your ferrets. Otherwise you should always wear a facemask and gloves, avoid kissing and cuddling the animals, make sure you wash your hands and limit the time spent with animals.

DAERA advice for Northern Ireland also states that you should avoid contact with ferrets if you have had a positive Covid-19 test or have symptoms suggestive of it. If you are the ferret carer, someone else will need to look after the ferret if possible. If this is not possible, you should wear a facemask and gloves.

Read the specific government guidance for ferret owners in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. 

In June the GB Ferret (and other Mustelinae) Register was launched. Registration is voluntary in Scotland, England and Wales, but the intention is to make this register compulsory in the near future. Government will use this information to determine the size and location of the kept ferret population. In the event of a suspected or confirmed case, or cases, of COVID-19 associated with kept ferrets or other Mustelinae, you will be contacted by APHA and provided with information and guidance on disease prevention measures.

If you are a keeper in England please register or call 0800 6341 112.

If you are a keeper in Scotland please register, or call 01466 794323.

If you are a keeper in Wales please register, or call 0800 6341 112.