Coronavirus: Major sponsors pull staff from attending Crufts

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Dylan and his owner Kathleen RoosensImage source, AFP/Getty Images
Image caption,
A papillon named Dylan was crowned Best in Show with his owner Kathleen Roosens at last year's Crufts

Two of Crufts' major sponsors have asked their staff not to attend the dog show amid fears over coronavirus.

Royal Canin UK and James Wellbeloved said their representatives should stay away from large events like Crufts "unless it is business critical".

The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) has also decided not to go.

Crufts organisers the Kennel Club said the event in Birmingham will go ahead, with "enhanced measures" to protect people.

The annual dog show at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) attracts competitors and visitors from all over the world - last year there were 160,000 visitors.

Out of almost 21,000 competing dogs to attend last year, 3,611 were from overseas.

Italy - where some 2,706 people are infected with the virus and 107 have died- led the way for last year's foreign entries with 413.

The Kennel Club, said in a statement, that the measures introduced would include hand sanitiser stations at entrances, additional signage, and hand sanitiser in toilets and catering areas.

They added that Public Health England had not advised them to cancel the event, but said they were ensuring all exhibitors were "aware of current travel restrictions and guidelines".

A spokesperson for Mars Petcare UK, the parent company of Royal Canin UK and James Wellbeloved, said that as a global business, it has a "responsibility" to protect the health of its staff and prevent the spread of the virus.

As a result, the company has "decided to restrict international travel and not participate in large events through March 31 unless it is business critical."

The firm said it remained "committed" to Crufts, and hoped to be participating "to the usual extent in the future".

The company would not disclose how many staff were asked not to attend Crufts, or what their duties were.

Image source, Katja Ogrin/EMPICS Entertainment
Image caption,
Last year's Toy Poodle judging competition

Meanwhile, the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), said in a statement they had decided not to attend "given the unprecedented and unpredictable situation."

They added they were "very disappointed" but the "safety of our members remains our priority".

It comes as the total number of UK cases of the virus rises to 85, with more than 90,000 people infected globally in over 50 countries.

The 129th edition of Crufts starts on Thursday and will take place over four days until Sunday March 8.

"Keep your distance"

Some visitors and people showing their dogs have expressed concerns about the virus spreading at Crufts.

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Sarah Fray, who is exhibiting Polly, her miniature poodle tomorrow, says is she only attending because the dog's "novice" co-owner is "desperate" for her to be shown.

She is worried about the virus spreading at Crufts and plans to limit her time there to just a few hours, and will ask visitors to "keep their distance" from her and Polly.

Image source, Sarah Fray
Image caption,
Sarah Fray, pictured with Polly at a previous dog show

Ms Fray, from the Isle of Sheppey, in Kent, says it is a "shame" to have to do this, but as a veterinary medicine student and a single mother to a young child, she "doesn't have time" to get sick, were she to catch the virus.

But not everyone shares her concerns, she says, with the issue causing something of a "Brexit divide" between exhibitors in online forums.

Ann Mckeon Collins, from Dublin, had been due to show her Standard Poodle, Luda, at Crufts, but has cancelled her trip, saying she "couldn't risk it" on health grounds.

Mrs Mckeon Collins, 59, said it would be "a bit on the silly side" to attend when she has a pacemaker fitted, has had cancer and her husband has asthma.

She says a lot of elderly people go for a day out to admire the dogs, and felt she would be better off staying at home.