After days of uncertainty, Thursday finally brought confirmation that the federal government considers veterinarian services to be ‘essential’ and therefore exempt from the shutdowns occurring across the country in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19. Inquiring minds would like to know: what took so bloody long?

Vets and animal welfare services did not appear to be at the forefront of the government’s thinking: two consecutive announcements about the shutdown failed to mention even them. Our Kiwi neighbours in New Zealand and a number of European countries navigated the complicated path of pandemic-related shutdowns by recognising and formalising veterinary services as ‘essential’ from the get-go. Australia dragged its feet, despite the immense importance of vets in ensuring the continued productivity of our food supply – and their role in making sure the pet-owning Australian public can rely on healthy companions as we all self-isolate.

A few days prior to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s first shutdown announcement, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Veterinary Association (WVA) teamed up to release a joint statement advocating for the absolute requirement that veterinarians worldwide be designated as ‘essential service providers’ during the pandemic.

“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,” Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) President, Dr Julia Crawford said in a statement. “We urgently need acknowledgement of our ‘essential’ status so we can continue to maintain animal health and welfare without interruption.”

Finally on Thursday, after lobbying by the RSPCA and the AVA – with PR assistance by Pet Pack – the government was forced to address the awkward silence, and Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud told the Guardian that “veterinarians provide essential services to the agricultural sector and the general public” and that “the federal government [had] not placed any restrictions on their ability to operate.”

It just begs the question: why didn’t you say so sooner, Dave?

by Ben Telfer