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. 

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In the workplace

What advice is there for vet practices during the England National lockdown?

The Prime Minister announced a one month national lockdown for England from Thursday 5 November to Wednesday 2 December, with news reports suggesting it could be extended. BVA immediately sought assurances from the UK Chief Veterinary Officer that veterinary practices would be considered as essential businesses and able to stay open during this period.

It’s essential that we continue to play our part in limiting the spread of Covid-19. The strong message from the government is for people to stay at home, but they recognise that access to veterinary services is important. So, as you are assessing cases during the lockdown, we’re asking you to think about working in this context.

Following consultations with the CVO and the RCVS, we’ve issued some updated guidance for the national lockdown. In summary:

  1. Veterinary practices are essential businesses and can stay open
  2. Practices must continue to work in Covid-safe ways
  3. Members of the veterinary team should work from home if possible
  4. Veterinary professionals should exercise clinical judgement to assess and triage essential animal health and welfare needs in the context of the lockdown
  5. Support neighbouring practices and be mindful of working across national borders

BVA guidance should be read in conjunction with the RCVS flowchart for England.

We know that practices are stretched and that members are worried about stress and burnout. But all of your hard work over the last seven months has put the profession in a very strong position to get through the next few weeks.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations specifically state that it is acceptable to leave your home to attend veterinary services, meaning that clients can continue to access veterinary care.

How do the local restriction tiers in England impact on veterinary practices?

Veterinary practices can stay open regardless of the tier. The full list of local restriction tiers for England was announced 26 November and will be in place from 2 December. We are currently working with the RCVS and Defra to determine guidance for working in the different tiers.

What is the current guidance for vets in Wales?

The 'firebreak' restrictions in Wales ended at midnight on 8 November 2020, so veterinary practices are no longer required to restrict services to essential and urgent work only, as long as they continue to comply with Covid-19 requirements on working safely.

We’re advising members in Wales to follow our guidance on working safely during the Covid-19 pandemic. BVA guidance should be read in conjunction with the RCVS flowchart for Wales.

What is the current guidance for vets in Scotland?

In November 2020, Scotland moved to a system of local Covid Protection Levels. We’re advising members in Scotland to continue to follow our guidance on working safely during the Covid-19 pandemic. BVA guidance should be read in conjunction with the RCVS flowchart for Scotland.

In Protection Level 4, only certain workplaces are permitted to open. Veterinary surgeons are listed as businesses that can remain open under Level 4 restrictions in the Health Protection (Coronavirus)(Restrictions and Requirements) (Local Level) (Scotland) Regulations 2020.

Practices are therefore able to remain open and do not have to restrict services to emergency or food supply chain work as long as they continue to comply with general Covid-19 business requirements on working safely. Businesses that can continue to operate at Level 4 must:

·        Plan for the minimum number of people needed on site to operate safely and effectively and maintain their service/operations.

·        Ensure all regulations and guidance is adhered to by staff and customers/visitors to site.

·        Encourage staff to work from home wherever possible, particularly with regards to staff who are assessed as at possible risk.

The Scottish Government has also clarified that travel to prevent an animal health or welfare issue arising or address a current animal health or welfare issue will be considered essential travel, meaning that clients can continue to access veterinary care across all protection levels.

I live in a Covid Protection Level 3 or 4 local authority in Scotland, can I travel outside of the area to work?

Yes, you can still travel outside of your local authority area to go to work if your work cannot be done from home, and clients are still able to travel for essential animal welfare reasons, such as accessing veterinary care. Scottish Government guidance sets out there is a limited list of exemptions from Level 3 and 4 travel restrictions, including:

  • travel for work, or provide voluntary or charitable services, but only where that cannot be done from your home; and
  • travel for essential animal welfare reasons, such as feeding a horse or going to a vet

What is the current guidance for vets in Northern Ireland?

The regulations come into effect on 27 November 2020. New restrictions will be put in place to help reduce the spread of coronavirus and to help manage the pressures on the health and social care system. 

The executive has released a list of businesses that can stay open during this period of restrictions. Veterinary practices appear on this list and can therefore remain open.

We have sought further clarity from DAERA and can confirm that the new regulations do not place new restrictions on the activities of veterinary practices.

We continue to advise members in Northern Ireland to follow our guidance on working safely during the Covid-19 pandemic. BVA guidance should be read in conjunction with the RCVS flowchart for Northern Ireland.

How do I minimise client contact?

  • Risk assess all in-person work.
  • Clarify the client’s medical status with regard to Covid-19 before booking any appointments.
  • Advise owners coming into the practice (eg for a euthanasia) on what to expect, including that it may look and feel different to normal due to social distancing measures.
  • Only allow one client per animal, where possible.
  • Continue to ask clients to wait outside the consult room and, if necessary, outside the premises.
  • Obtain histories and discuss and agree treatment plans remotely.
  • Use technology to triage and consult whenever possible and appropriate.
  • Consider remote prescribing in line with RCVS guidance
  • Obtain payment remotely.
  • Ensure contact-free collection of medication is in place, with a specific, secure collection time and place organised in advance.
  • Post medication if appropriate following Post Office guidance and, where applicable, following RCVS controlled drugs guidance.

NOTE: in Scotland veterinary practices are classed as retail spaces, and from early October, shops across Scotland were asked to return to two metres physical distancing and reintroduce the mitigations they put in place earlier in the pandemic, including one-way systems.

How do I minimise contact within the team?

Minimise staff contact in the workplace as much as possible:

  • Stagger arrival, departure, and break times.
  • Reduce congestion, for example, by having more and separate entry and exit points to the workplace.
  • Work in consistent pairs or small teams, if possible, for those who need to work in close proximity, for example, work that involves lifting or restraining animals and surgical procedures.
  • Allocate teams to specific workspaces (such as consult rooms and theatres) and avoid sharing equipment where possible, such as pens, stethoscopes, and otoscopes.
  • Don’t share food and other provisions.
  • Administrative staff and vets/VNs carrying out triage may still be able to work from home, if appropriate. 

Read the BVA updated guidance for UK veterinary practices on working safely during Covid-19 for further details on re-thinking physical space and layout and working out of vehicles in ambulatory practice.

Do we need to wear face coverings?

Face coverings are mandatory on public transport and in shops in England, Scotland and Wales. Face coverings are not intended to protect the wearer, but to protect against inadvertent transmission of the disease to others if you are asymptomatic. Do not get a false sense of security about the level of protection provided by wearing a face covering. It is essential that everyone continues to:

  • practise social distancing as much as humanly possible
  • wash their hands thoroughly throughout the day
  • ‘catch it, kill it, bin it’ when they sneeze or cough

England - Face coverings must be worn by retail, leisure and hospitality staff working in areas that are open to the public and where they’re likely to come into contact with a member of the public. Vet practices are not explicitly listed here but the guidance states that for other indoor settings, employers should assess the use of face coverings on a case by case basis depending on the workplace environment, other appropriate mitigations they have put in place, and whether reasonable exemptions apply.

Members of the public must, by law, wear a face covering in veterinary practices in England, unless they are exempt for age, health, or equality reasons. Premises where face coverings are required are encouraged to take reasonable steps to promote compliance with the law and could refuse entry to anyone who does not have a valid exemption, however, there is not an expectation that veterinary practices should police the law, and you should be mindful that some people may not be able to wear a face covering for various reasons. More information is available on the government website.

Scotland - Veterinary practices are classed as retail space in legislation and therefore staff, employees, and volunteers must wear a face covering unless they are separated by a partition, or maintain a distance of 2 metres It is important to remember that members of staff may be exempt from wearing a face covering for age, health or equality reasons).

Members of the public must also by law, wear a face covering in veterinary practices in Scotland, unless they are exempt for age, health, or equality reasons. Premises where face coverings are required are encouraged to take reasonable steps to promote compliance with the law and could refuse entry to anyone who does not have a valid exemption, however, there is not an expectation that veterinary practices should police the law, and you should be mindful that some people may not be able to wear a face covering for various reasons. More information is available on the government website

Wales Members of staff are required to wear a face covering in any indoor public space (i.e. any part of a premises that clients have access to). Further guidance can be found here: https://gov.wales/face-coverings-guidance-public Employers in Wales are also required to mandate the use of face coverings in indoor workplaces where social distancing cannot be maintained, unless there are strong reasons not to. More information for employers in Wales is available on the Welsh government website

Members of the public must also by law, wear a face covering in veterinary practices in Wales, unless they are exempt for age, health, or equality reasons. Premises where face coverings are required are encouraged to take reasonable steps to promote compliance with the law and could refuse entry to anyone who does not have a valid exemption, however, there is not an expectation that veterinary practices should police the law, and you should be mindful that some people may not be able to wear a face covering for various reasons. More information is available on the government website.

Northern Ireland - In Northern Ireland, it is mandatory to wear a face covering in a relevant place. A relevant place generally means a shop or shopping centre. As well as ordinary day to day shopping for items, a face covering is required in any other indoor place where goods or services are available to buy or rent.

It is not mandatory to wear a face covering in a business that is able to maintain social distancing by using a system of ticketing or appointments. However, it is strongly advised that you should think about using face coverings in circumstances - short periods in enclosed spaces - where social distancing is not possible.

What should I do if my employer is not following Government ‘Covid-19 Secure’ guidance?

We are all responsible for slowing the spread of Covid-19.  If you have concerns as to how your employer is implementing guidance on working safely during the pandemic, please contact the BVA legal helpline and consult the ACAS specific coronavirus guidance for employers and employees.

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. It is vital that team members continue to socially distance as much as possible within the workplace to mitigate the risk of interactions being considered as ‘contacts’.

However, if vets have been using appropriate PPE in situations where they are unable to socially distance, this may be taken into account by contact tracers. Below is a summary of the guidance we have received from each country within the UK.

England – In response to our lobbying, Public Health England has now updated its advice. If you test positive, the PPE you have been wearing will be discussed and taken into account before any decisions are made in relation to the impact on contacts within your veterinary workplace setting.  

What this means for you:

  • Each veterinary practice should carry out its own risk assessment in relation to use of PPE, the impact of test and trace, and ways of working. PHE expects most veterinary professionals would not be wearing full PPE and in these cases individuals would be asked to self-isolate. Where this would cause a significant impact on the provision of veterinary services, for example in rural/remote areas, and could impact animal health and welfare local PHE teams can carry out a risk assessment
  • Members of the veterinary team do not need to wear more PPE than they usually would. It should be based on the practice’s own risk assessments. Full use of PPE is only appropriate in situations where you cannot maintain social distancing in your work, such as during dental work or surgery.
  • Social distancing, hand hygiene and biosecurity are all key aspects of disease control and use of PPE should not be used as a substitute for these measures.  Any use of PPE must therefore also be accompanied by ongoing social and physical distancing (as far as possible), hand hygiene, and good biosecurity.
  • Continue to work in dedicated small teams and pairs and practise social and physical distancing as much as possible.
  • If you (or a member of your team) test positive for Covid-19 and you are contacted by a contact trace call handler, provide full details about your PPE.
  • If a client or a contact outside your workplace names you as a contact, you may still need to self-isolate, as you won’t know who identified you due to confidentiality.
  • In the event that self-isolation is required and would lead to a major problem with the provision of veterinary services in your area, contact your local PHE Health Protection Team to discuss it.

Current guidance from PHE and NHS on appropriate PPE in human healthcare settings is available online

Scotland - Health Protection Scotland guidance for contact tracing in complex settings specifies that if Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has been used – such as visors, masks, gloves-  in a non-health care or social care setting, an individual risk assessment will be undertaken by contact tracers to decide whether there has been an exposure risk sufficient to require contact isolation. The Scottish Government has confirmed that this guidance is applicable to veterinary settings.

What this means for you:

  • Members of the veterinary team do not need to wear more PPE than they usually would. It should be based on the practice’s own risk assessments. Full use of PPE is only appropriate in situations where you cannot maintain social distancing in your work, such as during dental work or surgery.
  • Social distancing, hand hygiene and biosecurity are all key aspects of disease control and use of PPE should not be used as a substitute for these measures.  Any use of PPE must therefore also be accompanied by ongoing social and physical distancing (as far as possible), hand hygiene, and good biosecurity.
  • Continue to work in dedicated small teams and pairs and practise social and physical distancing as much as possible.
  • If you (or a member of your team) are contacted by a contact tracing call handler, provide full details about your PPE. The contact tracer should then conduct an individual risk assessment to determine if you are required to self-isolate. 
  • If you (or a member of your team) test positive for Covid-19 make sure you explain the full circumstances to the contact tracing call handler, including full details about your PPE.
  • If a client or a contact outside your workplace names you as a contact, you may still need to self-isolate, as you won’t know who identified you due to confidentiality.
  • If you are using the Test and Protect app and receive a close contact alert advising you to self-isolate, but believe you were wearing PPE at the time of the contact, 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.

Using the NHS Scotland Test and Protect app when wearing PPE

Scottish Government guidance advises that all app users should keep their phone on and with them whenever possible, with the app active on their phone at all times except in a small number of circumstances:

  • If the user is a health or social care worker in a clinical setting, wearing medical grade PPE. This includes ambulance personnel
  • If the user is protected by a fixed physical barrier from customers and colleagues such as a Perspex screen for most of the working day. This doesn’t apply for those who constantly move around (e.g. café workers behind tills with a screen who also move around the café)
  • If the user keeps their phone in a locker or equivalent facility at work and not on their person

In these circumstances, ideally individuals should turn off their phone as that means the app will automatically continue to work when the phone is turned back on again. However, it is recognised that that is not always possible so alternatively users can choose to disable Bluetooth. It is also possible for users to turn off the Exposure Notification Setting on their mobile phone. This will turn off the ‘contact tracing' functionality until the Exposure Notification Setting is switched back on. The user will need to remember to turn their Exposure Notification Settings and/or Bluetooth back on.

If you receive a close contact alert advising you to self-isolate, but believe you meet one of the above scenarios, 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.

The app should NOT be switched off in the following scenarios:

  • Where PPE, including visors and face coverings, is used in non-clinical settings (e.g. building sites, café’s, transport, by fire and police personnel etc.)
  • In the home or vehicles (signals from adjoining properties or vehicles are unlikely to result in a contact alert)

Wales - Welsh Government has not issued specific guidance on the use of PPE in relation to contact tracing. When the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect (TTP) service contacts an individual who tested positive they will seek as much information as possible on the particular situation and any mitigating measures in place such as protective screens, adherence to the 2m distancing rule, etc. In correspondence with BVA, Welsh Government said: “The decision on whether an individual in the veterinary profession is determined a contact and asked to self-isolate will vary dramatically based on the specific circumstances of the exposure to the index case, and so must be assessed by an NHS Wales TTP contact tracer on a case by case basis.”

Northern Ireland – We have received the following guidance from the Public Health Agency. Vets are not exempt from contact tracing or isolation, but if a team member tests positive and has been wearing full PPE, this may be taken into account by contact tracers, on a case-by-case basis, in terms of the risk to the people those individuals came into contact with.  As in the human health services wearing of PPE is only taken into account when the individual is wearing it as part of their healthcare duties and not in any other situations and the same would probably apply to veterinary services.

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. You should ensure that your workplace is implementing the ‘Covid-19 Secure’ guidelines and that animals are only seen face-to-face where absolutely necessary.

Read government guidance on self-isolating

How do I create a QR code for the practice?

This service is only available in England and Wales. It allows visitors to scan the QR code when they arrive, using the NHS COVID-19 app.

More information is available on the government website.

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

The OIE states that there is a possibility for some animals to become infected through close contact with infected humans, however it is important to emphasise that the virus in pet animals is a rare occurrence. There is no evidence to suggest that animals that have been infected by humans are playing a role in the spread of Covid-19 back to humans. The main mode of transmission remains human-to-human.

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.

From the small number of cases reported in companion animals, it appears that dogs do not show symptoms, but cats can show clinical signs of the disease. Based on reported cases and knowledge of other Coronaviruses in pet animal species, presenting signs might include fever, malaise, respiratory and/or gastro-intestinal tract problems. There is currently no treatment for the virus itself.

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:
    • respiratory infection
    • gastrointestinal infection
    • 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

Can I get tested for Covid-19?

As part of the government’s strategy for coronavirus testing, they are testing people who have coronavirus-like symptoms to see if they currently have the virus. Testing is most effective within 3 days of symptoms developing.

 If you’re in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland and have any of the symptoms of coronavirus, you can ask for a test through the NHS website.

 If you’re an essential worker in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, you can apply for priority testing through by following the guidance for essential workers. You can also get tested through this route if you have symptoms of coronavirus and live with an essential worker.

 In Wales critical workers  who are symptomatic also have priority access to testing and can book a slot at a mass drive-through testing centre or mobile testing unit. Full details for testing in Wales can be found here. This includes those involved in the production and supply of food and key public service workers.

How should we provide care for pets from households with confirmed or suspected case of Covid-19?

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

The APHA Briefing Note 10/20 Advice for Veterinarians and their Clients on Pets and COVID-19 sets out that if you’re contacted by a pet owner who is self-isolating or has a confirmed case of Covid-19 you should:

  • In the first instance, provide advice remotely eg. by phone or teleconsult.
  • If the pet needs to visit the surgery, advise the pet owner to get a neighbour or friend from an unaffected household to bring in the animal. The handler should wash their hands before and after handling the pet, and may be able to minimise direct contact with the pet by use of a pet carrier.
  • If the pet need to visit the surgery, you should follow government social distancing guidance and use PPE as per the PHE infection prevention and control guide. You should use the virucidal disinfectants that you currently use around the practice after seeing the animal.

How should we provide care for pets from households with owners who are in vulnerable groups?

Some clients may be social distancing to protect their own health, if they have underlying health conditions or are over 70 for example. The APHA Briefing Note 10/20 Advice for Veterinarians and their Clients on Pets and COVID-19 sets out that to support these clients, consider organising collection or posting of medication. A friend or relative may be able to visit the practice with the pet. However, if this is not possible, consider other ways in which you may be able to support the owner and pet such as:

  • Advising the owner to wait in the car outside
  • Visiting at a quiet time of the day
  • Planning consultations with extra time either side
  • Carrying out the consultation without the owner being present with their input via a
  • telephone conversation
  • Organising a home visit (See FAQ on conducting home visits below)
  • Advising the owner to wait in the car outside
  • Visiting at a quiet time of the day
  • Planning consultations with extra time either side
  • Carrying out the consultation without the owner being present with their input via a
  • telephone conversation
  • Organising a home visit (See FAQ on conducting home visits below)

How will restrictions in veterinary services impact on pet insurance?

Pet insurance members of the Association of Business Insurers (ABI) have agreed to provide support to customers wherever they can to ensure pets receive the care they need. This includes being flexible on policy conditions, in particular the requirement for pets to have up to date vaccinations and regular dental examinations. Read the ABI statement in full: Covid-19 – Pet Insurers agree commitments to reassure Britain's 7.7 million pet insurance customers.

Can I still do home visits?

You should risk assess and plan ahead for home visits.

For all home visits:

  • Discuss plans in advance with householders to confirm how you intend to work.
  • Make sure they understand the social distancing and hygiene measures that need to be followed and manage their expectations.
  • Minimise contact with the client and where face-to-face interaction is required, then this should only be with one person per visit. Ask the client to secure the animal ahead of the visit.
  • Ask householders to leave all internal doors open to minimise contact with door handles.
  • Use a fixed pairing system if you have to work in close proximity.
  • Allocate the same person to the same household if multiple visits are required

When visiting a household where someone is clinically vulnerable (but has not been asked to shield):

  • Make arrangements to avoid any face-to-face contact.
  • Be particularly strict about handwashing and other hygiene measures.

If you are requested to assist with an animal in an infected or suspected household:

  • Follow RCVS advice and APHA advice
  • There is no expectation that vets should attend an infected or suspected household, in line with the RCVS Code supporting guidance (3.37f and 3.43)
  • Wear appropriate PPE
  • Mitigate the risks, for example, by arranging to see the animal outside the home, ie in a garden or garage.

For further advice and guidance see also the ‘Covid-19 Secure’ guidelines on working in other people’s homes (applicability is England only but the generic advice may be useful across the UK).

What about the Canine Health Schemes?

In light of the new national lockdown in England the Canine Health Schemes (CHS) team are adapting the way we work in order to follow these guidelines and also continue to process submissions. As of Thursday 5 November the CHS office will be closed and our team will be working remotely. For more information on this please visit the CHS pages.

Payment 

We are unable to take payment until we have received the submission, so please wait for at least two weeks before calling to make payment.

To make a payment by card for postal submissions, please call the office on 020 7908 6380 (please note that this line is for payments only).

When calling please provide us with the following information:

  • date of radiography
  • Kennel Club/microchip number
  • name and address of the veterinary practice

Contacting us

For all non-payment related enquiries, please email [email protected] and if possible include the dog’s Kennel Club or microchip number, date of radiography, and the name and address of your vet practice. The team will get back to you as soon as possible.

Will bTB testing continue?

OVs can continue with bTB testing across Great Britain, but only if it can be carried out safely under guidance relating to the Covid-19 pandemic. All vets must consider if social distancing can be maintained, and if it cannot the test should not be undertaken. APHA released a TB testing briefing note covering England and Wales and Scotland. OVs in Great Britain should keep up-to-date on APHA OV Briefing Notes.

In England and Wales, calves under 180 days old at the start of a routine or targeted herd surveillance TB test can be excluded from skin testing in officially TB free herds if, in the vet’s judgement, they can’t be tested safely in line with social distancing. This temporary amendment will be applied retrospectively to incomplete tests where the final part of the test would have commenced on or after 23 March 2020, and to any qualifying tests from now on until further notice.

For herds in England and Wales whose Officially TB Free status has been suspended (OTFS) or withdrawn (OTFW), a temporary amendment will allow further herd testing to be scheduled even though some or all eligible calves under 180 days old have not been tested. When eligible animals under 180 days old have been excluded from a test due to the requirement to maintain social distancing, the test will be considered a Check test and further Short Interval testing will be scheduled.

In Northern Ireland, from 1 December 2020, movement restrictions relating to overdue bTB tests will return to being applied seven days after the test is overdue.  From 5 January 2021 herds with a bTB test that is 37 days overdue will no longer be permitted to purchase new bovines or move cattle to slaughter.  To facilitate social distancing during a bTB test, calves under 180 days of age continue to be temporarily exempt from bTB testing, where testing these bovines cannot take place safely.  Follow the DAERA Q&A page for updates for Northern Ireland.

Are vets exempt from border quarantine? 

There are some exemptions to the new 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 exemptions are different for each of the regions of the UK:

  • England – Veterinary surgeons involved in the food supply chain, and Official Veterinarians (OVs) working on official controls at the border are exempt from the quarantine rules when they travel to the UK to commence or resume work. Other vets (eg companion animal vets) are not exempt. Those veterinary surgeons involved in the food supply chain are exempt under this guideline, with the food supply being covered under ‘goods’. In addition, there are exemptions for qualified persons and responsible persons for human and veterinary medicines, clinical trials, clinical investigations and pharmacovigilance. The full list of exemptions is available 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. Please refer to the full list of exemptions on the Welsh government website.
  • Scotland - There are no specific quarantine exemptions for veterinary professionals. Please refer to the Scottish government website.
  • Northern Ireland - The categories of veterinary professionals exempt from quarantine mirror those exempt for England, namely Veterinary surgeons involved in the food supply chain and qualified persons and responsible persons for human and veterinary medicines, clinical trials, clinical investigations and pharmacovigilance. Please refer to the full list of exemptions 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.

Government support for businesses

Has the Job Retention Scheme (furlough scheme) been extended?

Employers across the UK are eligible for the extended Job Retention Scheme (the furlough scheme), which has extended by one month until until 31 March 2021.

Businesses will have flexibility to bring furloughed employees back to work on a part time basis or furlough them full-time.

For claim periods running to January 2021, the government will pay 80% of wages up to a cap of £2,500 and employers will pay employer National Insurance Contributions (NICs) and pension contributions only for the hours the employee does not work. Employers are still able to choose to top up employee wages above the scheme grant at their own expense if they wish.

The government will review the policy in January to decide whether economic circumstances are improving enough to ask employers to contribute more.

The previously announced Jobs Retention Bonus (JRB) will not be paid in February

Further details are available on the HMRC website.  

What if I am a locum or self-employed?

There is a separate Self-employment Income Support Scheme for the self-employed or members of a partnership. This has been extended in line with the changes to the Job Retention Scheme.

The government will provide two additional taxable SEISS grants to support those experiencing reduced demand due to COVID-19 but are continuing to trade, or temporarily cannot trade. It will be available to anyone who was previously eligible for the previous SEISS grants and meets the eligibility criteria.

Grants will be paid in two lump sum instalments each covering 3 months. The first grant will cover a three-month period from the start of November 2020 until the end of January 2021. The grant covering November to January is calculated at 80% of average trading profits, up to a maximum of £7,500.

The second grant will cover a three-month period from the start of February until the end of April 2021. The government will review the level of the second grant and set this in due course.

For more information, see the HMRC website.

What support is there for veterinary businesses?

The government has set out a package of measures to support businesses through this period. There are some different schemes available in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Veterinary practices may be able to access:

  • The Job Retention Scheme
  • deferring VAT and Income Tax payments
  • a Statutory Sick Pay relief package for small and medium sized businesses
  • small business grant funding of £10,000 for business in receipt of small business rate relief or rural rate relief
  • the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme offering loans of up to £5 million for SMEs through the British Business Bank
  • a new lending facility from the Bank of England to help support liquidity among larger firms, helping them bridge coronavirus disruption to their cash flows through loans
  • the HMRC Time To Pay Scheme

Medicines

Can I prescribe without seeing the patient?

Under normal circumstances the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct for Veterinary Surgeons does not allow veterinary surgeons to prescribe veterinary medicines (POM-Vs) without a physical examination of the animal(s) having first taken place. However, in March RCVS Council decided that there should be a temporary departure from this position under the current exceptional circumstances. Read the RCVS announcement. This position was revised at the end of June and a six-week extension applied. Read the RCVS statement. A further extension was subsequently applied, until the end of September. Read the RCVS statement

What medicines can be posted?

The Post Office provides guidance on what prescription medicines can be sent through the post for medical purposes.

What about VMD inspections?

VMD re-started on-site inspections of manufacturers, wholesalers, vet practices, feed business operators and SQP retailer premises on 24 August.

Vulnerable groups

What is ‘shielding’ and how has government advice changed?

Shielding is a measure to protect people who are clinically extremely vulnerable. 

Read the most up-to-date guidance on shielding from each of the UK nations:

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

Pregnant people are in the vulnerable group designated by government 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?

We know it’s a worrying time for veterinary students, and that Covid-19 restrictions are preventing some students from completing their EMS placements. You should speak directly to your school about your own situation. Each school is live to these concerns and will be able to advise as appropriate.

Can I still continue with my clinical placements after face-to-face teaching stops on 9 December?

In line with face-to-face teaching moving online by 9 December, government guidance advises that your school should reschedule and rearrange placements or simulation work due to take place between 9 December and the end of term. This will ensure that students who wish to return home during the travel window before Christmas (3-9 December) are able to do so.

Final year veterinary students may continue their clinical placements beyond 9 December, if they wish to do so. If you choose to leave during the student travel window, your school should support you to rearrange your placements. Read Government guidance on Student movements and plans for the end of term in full.

If you decide to continue your placement after 9 December, you should restrict your social contact to minimise the risk of transmission. It’s important to be aware that if you decide to continue your placement after 9 December you may also run the risk of having to undertake a period of isolation of up to 14 days at university if you contract coronavirus (COVID-19) or were identified as a contact of someone who had and would therefore be at risk of not being able to travel home in time for Christmas

Can I travel between Covid Protection Levels in Scotland to access EMS placements?

Yes.  We have clarified with Scottish Government that Extra Mural Studies (EMS) can be considered as work placements, so it is permissible to travel/access accommodation for EMS placements in line with the current Scottish Government Covid-19 requirements.

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, everyday 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.

How you can help

How can I help the NHS

The most important thing you can do to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and support our colleagues in the NHS is observe strict social distancing measures, and ensure that this is applied, as far as reasonably practicable, when carrying out essential veterinary work. Read government guidance.

Can I work as a clinical contact caseworker?

RCVS has spoken to the relevant authorities in England, Scotland and Wales about what insurance implications there may be for veterinary professionals undertaking this role. These are as follows:

  • England Veterinary professionals who are engaged by NHS Professionals to undertake test and trace duties for the Department of Health and Social Care/Public Health England are covered for clinical negligence risks under the Clinical Negligence Scheme for Coronavirus, which is administered by NHS Resolution on behalf of the Secretary of State.
  • Scotland: Veterinary professionals employed by, or volunteering for, an NHS Scotland Board are covered for clinical negligence risks by the Clinical Negligence and Other Risks Indemnity Scheme (CNORIS), managed by NHS National Services Scotland. Employment in a contact tracer role by NHS Scotland would be via an NHS Scotland Board and therefore covered by CNORIS.
  • Wales and Northern Ireland: clarification currently being sought

Animal owners and breeders

Are vet practices open during ongoing restrictions?

Vet practices across the UK have been able to stay open during the pandemic, but the services they are able to offer will vary depending on local restrictions. 

Wherever you are based, please always call your veterinary practice first to arrange the best approach to meet your pet’s needs at this time. As with all aspects of life during the Covid-19 pandemic, you should follow social distancing measures when interacting with your veterinary surgery. This may mean you need to wait in the car and allow your vet to assess your pet alone. Your veterinary surgery will be able to offer you advice on the social distancing measures they have put in places.

In England, Scotland and Wales, members of the public must, by law, wear a face covering in veterinary practices, unless they are exempt for age, health, or equality reasons. More information is available on the government website.

As always, decisions will vary between practices and in different parts of the country. Vets are working hard to balance animal health and welfare, public health, your safety and the safety of their teams. We’re asking the public to respect their veterinary teams and understand that they are doing their very best in difficult circumstances.

England National lockdown 5 November – 2 December 2020 
The strong message from the government is for people to stay at home during the national lockdown in England (5 November-2 December). However, the government has recognised that access to veterinary services during this time is important to protect animal health and welfare. With this in mind, veterinary practices in England will continue to stay open, but practices will be risk assessing each case using their professional and clinical judgement to assess whether in-person treatment is required, or whether services could be provided remotely. Remote services, such as teleconsultations, may also be charged for.

Wales
During the Wales Firebreak Lockdown (23 October – 8 November) veterinary practices were only providing essential and urgent care. They are now able to provide a more normal range of services, as long as they continue to comply with general Covid-19 business requirements on working safely. Veterinary practices will be risk assessing each case using their professional and clinical judgement to assess whether in-person treatment is required, or whether services could be provided remotely. Remote services, such as teleconsultations, may also be charged for

Scotland local Covid Protection Levels
In November 2020, Scotland moved to a system of local Covid Protection Levels. Under all levels, veterinary practices can remain open as long as they continue to comply with general Covid-19 business requirements on working safely. Veterinary practices will be risk assessing each case using their professional and clinical judgement to assess whether in-person treatment is required, or whether services could be provided remotely. Remote services, such as teleconsultations, may also be charged for.

Northern Ireland additional restrictions from 16 October 
Following an increase in Covid-19 cases, additional restrictions have been introduced for people living in Northern Ireland from 16 October, lasting four weeks. These new restrictions have been put in place to help reduce the spread of coronavirus and to help manage the pressures on the health and social care system.

Veterinary practices in Northern Ireland are permitted to remain open and continue to operate. Veterinary practices will be risk assessing each case using their professional and clinical judgement to assess whether in-person treatment is required, or whether services could be provided remotely. Remote services, such as teleconsultations, may also be charged for.

In Northern Ireland, it is mandatory to wear a face covering in a relevant place.  A relevant place generally means a shop or shopping centre. As well as ordinary day to day shopping for items, a face covering is required in any other indoor place where goods or services are available to buy or rent.

It is not mandatory to wear a face covering in a business that is able to maintain social distancing by using a system of ticketing or appointments.  However, it is strongly advised that you should think about using face coverings in circumstances - short periods in enclosed spaces - where social distancing is not possible.

Can my pet contract coronavirus and pass it to humans?

There is currently no definitive evidence that pets can pass Covid-19 to their owners. According to the OIE, the current spread of Covid-19 is a result of human-to-human transmission, and, to date, there is no reason to conclude that companion animals can spread the disease. The OIE states that there is a possibility for some animals to become infected through close contact with infected humans.  

There continues to be no evidence that infected pets can pass Covid-19 to their owners, and there is no evidence to suggest that companion animals that have been infected by humans are playing a role in the spread of Covid-19 back to humans.

Pet owners with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 should:

  • Restrict contact with pets as a precautionary measure.
  • If your pet requires care, wash your hands before and after any interaction with them and wear a face mask if possible.
  • Keep cats indoors if possible, and only if they are happy to be indoors. Try to arrange for someone else to exercise dogs, taking care to restrict any contact with the person walking your dog and making sure they practise good hand hygiene. This is to reduce the likelihood of your pet spreading the disease through environmental contamination on their fur – there is no evidence that pet animals can pass Covid-19 to humans.
  • If your pet shows clinical signs, please do not take it to the vet but call the practice for advice first and alert them to the household’s status.
  • If your pet requires essential treatment, call the practice for further advice. Do not take your pet to the surgery unless the vet instructs you to. You may need to arrange for someone else to transport your pet for treatment.

Read our statement.

How can I walk someone else’s dog safely?

You should only be walking someone else’s dog if, due to their individual circumstances, they are unable to do so themselves. This includes people who are key workers (NHS staff or similar), shielded (at particular risk from Coronavirus) or the vulnerable and over 70s or people from a self-isolating household confirmed or suspected of having Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Read the Canine and Feline Sector Group’s practical advice on how to walk someone else’s dog safely

How should I care for my animal if I have Covid-19, am self-isolating or social distancing?

The OIE recommend that people who are sick with Covid-19 limit contact with companion and other animals until more information is known about the virus. 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.

Our advice for pet owners diagnosed with Covid-19 or self-isolating with symptoms is:

  • Restrict contact with pets as a precautionary animal health measure until more information is known about the virus.
  • If your pet requires care, wash your hands before and after any interaction with them and wear a face mask if possible.
  • Keep cats indoors if possible, and only if they are happy to be indoors, and try to arrange for someone else to exercise dogs, taking care to restrict any contact with the person walking your dog and making sure they practise good hygiene. This is to reduce the likelihood of your pet spreading the disease through environmental contamination on their fur – there is no evidence that pet animals can pass Covid-19 to humans.
  • If your pet shows clinical signs, please do not take it to the vet but call the practice for advice and alert them to the household’s status. 
  • If your pet requires essential treatment, call the practice for further advice. Do not take your pet to the surgery unless the vet instructs you to. You may need to arrange for someone else to transport your pet for treatment.

The following useful guidance documents have also been produced for animal owners on how to look after animals during the Covid-19 pandemic:

Can companion animal breeding still go ahead?

In line with government guidance for employers and businesses, breeders that are considered as businesses may continue to operate.  However, we consider that there is no animal welfare justification for the continuation of companion animal breeding at this time. We would therefore advise against breeding companion animals during the lockdown period.

Can puppies and kittens go to their new home during lock down?

Please note: We’re advising against breeding companion animals during the lockdown period. This advice pertains to existing litters or litters already in utero. We consider that there is no animal welfare justification for the continuation of companion animal breeding at this time.

We recognise that there will be litters of puppies and kittens that are ready to be rehomed, or litters already in utero. Given the potential welfare implications if these puppies and kittens were not rehomed, it is appropriate to rehome these animals if they are at least 8 weeks of age and can be viewed remotely with their mother and litter mates.

In line with government advice on social distancing, prospective owners should not visit the litter and the mother in person, instead they should view the puppy/kitten, its mother and litter mates remotely eg. via videocall.

We understand that Defra is advising that prospective pet owners should not be leaving their home to collect their new pets at this time as it is considered as non-essential travel. However, breeders that are considered a business may take puppies or kittens to their new home providing that rehoming can be carried out while practising strict social distancing. 

Further detail on how breeders can rehome litters safely is available in the CFSG guidance for pet businesses. Welsh Government have also produced animal businesses rescue and rehoming coronavirus guidance.

This notes that purchasers may collect a puppy or kitten by prior arrangement when the sale has already been agreed. The pet must be at least eight weeks of age and any viewing of them with their mother and litter mates can be achieved remotely if necessary due to movement restrictions.

Handover should take place in a room or space large enough for the breeder/transporter and purchaser to maintain their social distance (2m should be adhered to where possible). No equipment such as a basket should be given by the breeder to the purchaser.

Paperwork and other checks and documentation should be predominantly completed ahead of the meeting. Prior to the acquisition of the puppy or kitten, the purchaser should be given advice on immediate care of them including what food to purchase and allowing them to settle in their new home.

Can I get my new puppy or kitten?

If you’re considering getting a pet at this time, we recommend that you carefully read the Puppy Contract or Kitten Checklist to reflect on whether you can meet their welfare needs beyond lockdown, and that any pet is suitable for your or your family’s lifestyle in the long-term.

Handover should take place in a room or space large enough for the breeder/transporter and purchaser to maintain their social distance (2m should be adhered to where possible). No equipment such as a basket should be given by the breeder to the purchaser.

Paperwork and other checks and documentation should be predominantly completed ahead of the meeting. Prior to the acquisition of the puppy or kitten, the purchaser should be given advice on immediate care of them including what food to purchase and allowing them to settle in their new home.

What fees should my practice be charging over this period?

RCVS supporting guidance notes that a veterinary surgeon is entitled to charge a fee for the provision of services. Provision of services includes remote consultation and you should expect to be charged for a consultation with your vet even if it’s provided by phone/video. Fees charged during this period might change to reflect the costs associated with providing an essential service under social distancing requirements. As always, all pricing practices should comply with the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and other consumer protection legislation. Clients should be provided with clear and easy to understand information about how fees are calculated and what is being charged for.

What about Canine Health Schemes?

In light of the new national lockdown in England, the Canine Health Schemes (CHS) team are adapting the way we work in order to follow these guidelines and also continue to process submissions. As of Thursday 5 November the CHS office will be closed and our team will be working remotely. For more information on this please visit the CHS pages.

Payment

We are unable to take payment until we have received the submission, so please wait for at least two weeks before calling to make payment.

To make a payment by card for postal submissions, please call the office on 020 7908 6380 (please note that this line is for payments only).

When calling please provide us with the following information:

  • date of radiography
  • Kennel Club/microchip number
  • name and address of the veterinary practice

Contacting us

For all non-payment related enquiries, please email [email protected] and if possible include the dog’s Kennel Club or microchip number, date of radiography, and the name and address of your vet practice. The team will get back to you as soon as possible.