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What’s the risk that animals will spread the coronavirus?

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Soon after the new coronavirus started spreading around the globe, reports emerged of cases in animals — pet cats in Hong Kong, tigers in a New York City zoo and mink on farms in the Netherlands. Now researchers are urgently trying to discover which species can catch the virus, and whether they can pass it to people.

So far, there have been only two reported cases of animals — both mink — passing the virus SARS-CoV-2 to people. At the moment, the chance of contracting the disease from an infected animal is negligible compared to the risk of catching it from an ill person, say researchers.

But as the numbers of infected people fall and restrictions on movement ease, infected animals might have the potential to spark new outbreaks. Researchers are calling for extensive sampling of pets, livestock and wildlife to improve understanding of the risk.

The virus could be spreading undetected in some animals that we don’t know about, says Joanne Santini, a microbiologist at University College London. “We just don’t have enough data,” she says.

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