epa08249683 A woman wearing a protective face mask walks with dogs in an empty shopping and residential area of Sanlitun, in Beijing, China, 26 February 2020. The outbreak of Covid-19 coronavirus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has so far killed at least 2,770 people and infected over 81,000 others worldwide, mostly in China. EPA/ROMAN PILIPEY

Social media photos are not of dogs being killed because of coronavirus fears

AAP FactCheck March 6, 2020

The Statement

As China continues to battle COVID-19, a social media post claims the Chinese public and officials are killing dogs despite World Health Organization advice that “Chinese Coronavirus” is not transmissible between dogs and humans.

The post from February 26, 2020 by the Facebook page, The General Consensus, reads, “There’s something very wrong with a culture if it permits this kind of wilful cruelty. The Chinese public and officials are killing dogs despite the World Health Organisation advice that the Chinese Coronavirus is not transmissible between dogs and humans. The eyes of the world are upon you China. How will you respond?”

The post is linked to a yousign.org online petition (images contain graphic content) protesting the killing of dogs in China over COVID-19 and included three photos depicting the killing of dogs – one by a man in uniform.

The post has attracted more than 200 shares and received more than 300 comments and 780 reactions.

A Facebook post from February 26, 2020.
┬áA post claims China officials are killing dogs despite WHO’s COVID-19 advice on dogs and humans.┬á

The Analysis

The COVID-19 outbreak began in Wuhan, China in late December 2019, and has since spread to 77 countries as of March 5, 2020. Nearly 3000 people have died and more than 93,000 have been infected as of March 4, 2020, according to the World Health Organization.

The Facebook post makes two claims: the first that Chinese public and officials are killing dogs and inferring that it’s being done in response to the spread of COVID-19; and the second, that the World Health Organization (WHO) released advice that the virus cannot be transmitted between dogs and humans.

Regarding the first claim, the photos accompanying the post are not related to the COVID-19 outbreak. The first photo has been online since at least March 30, 2013 and was linked to a Vietyo, a Vietnamese online youth chat forum. The second image has been online since at least March 12, 2014 and the third photo has been online since at least February 20, 2015.

It is true there have been media reports of Chinese officials killing pets, including dogs, to stop the spread of coronavirus with examples here, here and here.

In late February, stories began to emerge concerning the positive test for COVID-19 in a pet dog in Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) confirmed the story, with a spokesman saying on February 28 that a pet dog had been tested “weak positive” to COVID-19.

The official statement said a dog of a patient infected with COVID-19 had been picked up from a residential flat and sent to an animal keeping facility in Hong Kong, following a referral from the health department.

“Oral, nasal and rectal samples were collected for testing of COVID-19 virus,” the statement said. “The nasal and oral cavity samples were tested weak positive to COVID-19 virus. The dog does not have any relevant symptoms.”

However, the AFCD also affirms WHO’s advice when it says: “At present, the AFCD does not have evidence that pet animals can be infected with COVID-19 virus or can be a source of infection to people.”

More recently, a video posted by animal activist group Nanchong Missing Animal Aid Group to Weibo and another by an animal rights activist appear to be the source of stories claiming Chinese authorities are ordering and carrying out the killing of household pets in the township of Longcan in Peng’an County in Nanchong.

The claim, and the videos, have been widely circulated by media, such as The Daily Mail and The Sun. The videos purport to show bloodied dogs in the back of a truck and a man in a soldier’s uniform touching a lifeless dog with a stick. However, there is nothing to verify the circumstances behind the content in the videos. The Mail reports local authorities have denied they killed the dogs to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and that the government of Longcan said they culled the dogs to control rabies.

On the claim concerning WHO’s advice, the United Nations public health organisation has released a statement on the spread of COVID-19 by household pets. On a web page titled, “Coronavirus disease (Covid-19) advice for the public: Myth busters”, WHO directly addresses the question: Can pets at home spread the new coronavirus (COVID-19)?

“At present, there is no evidence that companion animals/pets such as dogs or cats can be infected with the new coronavirus. However, it is always a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water after contact with pets. This protects you against various common bacteria such as E.coli and Salmonella that can pass between pets and humans,” the WHO response reads.

A woman wearing a protective face mask walks dogs in Beijing, China
World Health Organization advice is there is no evidence that dogs can be infected with COVID-19. 

The Verdict

Based on the evidence, AAP FactCheck found the post to be partly false. While there are media reports concerning pets being killed in China because of fears over the spread of COVID-19, they remain unverified and have been denied by authorities. The photos accompanying the Facebook post are unrelated to COVID-19. It is true that World Health Organization’s advice is there is no evidence that companion animals/pets can be infected with COVID-19 despite a single case in Hong Kong of a dog testing “weak positive”.

Partly False – The claims of the content are a mixture of accurate and inaccurate or the primary claim is misleading or incomplete.

* AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://aap.com.au/

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