Coronavirus may have spread to dogs, but that did not stop animal lovers flocking to the opening day Thursday (Mar 5) of the world's biggest dog show, Crufts – although many were taking precautions.
"It's the biggest show in the world!" enthused Inna Blayvas, who came to the event in Birmingham, central England, from Israel with six friends and their animals.
"Everything was booked a year ago, hotel, flight. It cost £1,000 (S$1,791) per person," the 42-year-old told AFP.
Only one of their number cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak sweeping the globe – an 18-year-old junior handler whose parents objected.
"It was her last chance to take part to the competition but her mother said no yesterday," Blayvas said.
Her friend, Galit Saroosi, the proud owner of Kiwi, a miniature Schnauzer with grey whiskers, said the group was taking precautions to protect their pets.
"We won't let the dogs be in contact with other dogs. We will keep them in their cages," she explained over the noise of excited yapping.
More than 26,000 dogs and 166,000 fans are expected over the four days of Crufts this year.
The dogs compete in events covering everything from looks to obedience and agility – including flyball, a frantic race through obstacles for a tennis ball.
Events around the world have been cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak, which has killed over 3,300 people, including, in Britain, the London Book Fair.
There were particular fears for Crufts after a pet dog in Hong Kong was found to be infected with the virus, and quarantined.
But the Kennel Club organisers decided to go ahead, following UK government advice to continue as normal.
CLEAN HANDS AFTER PETTING
"Apparently dogs can get it too," said Corinne Mechoud, 52, who came from Normandy in northern France with Myway, a little German Spitz who she carried in her arms.
"I'm not going to let her walk around," she said, adding that for her own protection, she washes her hands with disinfectant and refrains from greeting anyone with a kiss.
Hand sanitiser gel is available around the competition hall and at each stand, handlers encourage people to use it after petting their animals.
Last year, 3,000 dogs came to Crufts from overseas. Italy was due to send 366 this year, but they may not come as it tackles the worst outbreak in Europe.
"I think attendance may be lightly affected because of those people in high risk groups making decisions not to travel," said Charlotte McNamara, health and welfare manager at the Kennel Club.
But she hopes most people will follow government advice to carry on as normal.
"They said the circumstances remain the same, that people should carry on in everyday life but take precautions, so (I hope) people will continue to come and enjoy it," she said.
Some major sponsors, including Royal Canin, have however decided not to send staff to the competition, and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers is staying away.
"I think there are less people than usual, because of coronavirus," said Louise Leone, from the US state of Colorado, watching an event featuring Japanese spaniels.
The 69-year-old has been coming to Crufts since the 1980s and did not want to miss this year.
But she admitted she was "a little bit worried" and was wearing a green mask "as a precautionary measure".