Every cat in the UK could have been “exterminated” to limit the spread of Covid under a plan considered by the government, it has been revealed.
Former health minister Lord Bethell said the drastic measure was discussed in the early stages of the pandemic amid fears domestic pets could spread the disease.
He made the admission following the leak of thousands of WhatsApp messages between ministers and officials at the height of the coronavirus outbreak.
Lord Bethell told Channel 4 News: “What we shouldn’t forget is how little we understood about this disease.
“There was a moment we were very unclear about whether domestic pets could transmit the disease.
“In fact, there was an idea at one moment that we might have to ask the public to exterminate all the cats in Britain.
“Can you imagine what would have happened if we had wanted to do that?
“And yet, for a moment there was a bit of evidence around that so that had to be investigated and closed down.”
Lord Bethell was deputy minister to health secretary Matt Hancock between 2020 and 2021.
The leaked WhatsApp messages, which were given to the Telegraph by the journalist Isabel Oakeshott, also suggest Hancock rejected advice to give coronavirus tests to all residents going into English care homes, not just those moving from hospitals.
But a spokesperson for the MP - who lost the Tory whip after agreeing to appear on I’m A Celebrity - strenuously denied the claim.
He said: “These stolen messages have been doctored to create a false story that Matt rejected clinical advice on care home testing. This is flat wrong.”
The messages also reveal how a Covid test was couriered to the home of Jacob Rees-Mogg during a nationwide backlog at the height of the pandemic, leaked WhatsApp messages suggest.
The kit was sent to the then cabinet minister’s house in September 2020 after a lab “lost” a test taken by his son.