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Cyprus becoming ‘Island of Dead Cats’ after 300,000 killed by feline coronavirus

At least 300,000 cats are believed to have died in Cyprus over the past six months after contracting a mutation of feline coronavirus, an expert has claimed.

Extortionate prices for antiviral drugs, as high as nearly £6,000 for one jab, are causing major concern among pet owners on the island as some locals have resorted to spending “all [their] savings” on the black market in their desperation. 

The Ministry of Agriculture has claimed it is examining “the possible ways of dealing with the issue” through “various therapeutic preparations available on the European Union market” but maintains there has only been 107 cases, playing down the scope of the problem. 

The virus “comes from a mutation of intestinal coronavirus present in 90 per cent of cats”, according to local Cypriot veterinarian Kostis Larkou, who added that it was “very contagious”. 

It causes the cats to suffer from fever, swelling of the abdomen, weakness and sometimes even aggressiveness, Mr Larkou said.

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Estimates from Mr Ayiomamitis, the president of “Cats PAWS Cyprus” and vice-president of “Cyprus Voice for Animals” (CVA), estimates that at least 300,000 cats have already died of the disease since the start of 2023. 

The activist, who has been feeding around 60 cats in a cemetery in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, said he was worried about the speed with which one infection in that group could infect the entire clan. 

“The colony is doing well, but we are worried, because if only one is infected, the others will be too”, the 70-year-old activist said. 

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To contain the outbreak, two options are being considered, including the use of a drug approved for human coronavirus in India, called Molnupiravir, and a veterinary antiviral drug approved in England, called “GS-441524”.

Only the import of GS has been authorised in Cyprus but it is subject to restrictions, while it is also made less accessible by the prohibitive price of the treatment, varying from £2,560 to £5,975 per cat.

As a result, there is no stock of medicines on the island.

One Cypriot woman, speaking anonymously, admitted resorting to underhanded tactics to ensure her animals were not fatally infected. 

She said: “We buy our medicines on the black market online, or through Facebook groups. We keep our suppliers secret so that we can continue to treat our animals.” 

‌Vasiliki Mani, a 38-year-old Cypriot member of several animal welfare associations, is calling for a quick solution. In January, she treated two stray cats from the FIP at a cost of £3,072.

“I spent all my savings,” the volunteer said, believing that animals in Cyprus were treated with “negligence and cruelty”.

She warned that if there was not considerable change to the medical system, Cyprus would soon become the “Island of Dead Cats”.

Additional reporting by Maria Ortega.

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