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I read the Editorial and the Debate article by Joe Brownlie and Dick Sibley in the same issue with some concern (VR, 18/25 April 2020, vol 186, pp 429, 462-463), which made me think about whether vets would manage the Covid-19 outbreak better.
First, Covid-19 is a human health problem.
Second, we are a profession deeply involved in a decades-old attempt to control a major – potentially zoonotic – disease caused by an infectious agent – bovine TB. In living memory we have also been involved in two large foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks. And there is no 100 per cent sure way to control Johne’s disease. So why should the government trust us?
Third, the matter of trust in partners you work with is crucial to government. For example, the government was told ventilators were needed, and lots of them, and now the clinical effectiveness of ventilators is being questioned. It was told masks were not necessary, now it is being admitted that masks may have a major role. Readers could produce long lists of matters where government has received advice which in hindsight was not the best. And bear in mind that, every day, the government will be receiving thousands of suggestions on how to improve matters.
The reason the public lacks trust in the government is four-fold.
The general public and the media are unforgiving and quick to point out errors and theoretical better ways. The government is in the midst of a crisis, but now it has to spend time justifying its actions.
There is a constant comparison between different nations’ performance even though these nations are different in so many ways.
This is a novel situation. The man in the street knows that the government will make mistakes, but the media is, in my opinion, over-critical of any mistakes made.
The government needs those with a consistent track record of success in the problem area. There is no one. We have no one with practical hands-on experience in the UK. No nation has.
Of course in private we should continue to offer government every possible help we can. Publicly we must back them, in my view.
In our own professional patch we should do our bit. Veterinary laboratories could in fact check to see what, if any, seroconversion has occurred in pets or how many pets have carried antigens and for how long.
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