Australian health authorities are on alert to a deadly new coronavirus strain affecting cats.
The new strain of coronavirus has killed at least 8,000 cats in Cyprus and has spread to the UK.
Deakin epidemiologist Dr Hassan Vally said that while coronavirus regularly circulates through different animals, this new strain Fe-Cov-23 was "100 per cent fatal" and "spreading like wildfire in Cyprus".
At least one cat in the UK has been infected with the virus from Cyprus and has been isolated from its owners.
This new virus has come about in a similar way to COVID-19, which was "a recombination event" originating from coronavirus in bats and an intermediate host to create a brand new virus, Dr Vally said.
"It sounds like exactly the same thing has happened with these cats in that coronavirus that infects cats has recombinated with a coronavirus that infects dogs and it's led to a situation where you have a new virus."
It's more virulent and more transmissible than the usual coronavirus that affects cats which is called Feline Infection Peritonitis (FIP), Dr Vally said.
In the worst case scenario, "cats could go through their own equivalent to the COVID-19 pandemic if this spreads throughout the world".
In the most extreme scenario, the virus would spread through the UK with the same ease that it's spread through Cyprus.
There's no reason why it couldn't spread to places like Australia, Dr Vally said.
"But there's also hope that we can do all the kind of things we did for COVID-19 and do our best to make sure that it doesn't spread."
Some of those precautions would be quarantining and isolating cats, he said.
For example, in Cyprus people are keeping their pet cats away from non-domesticated cats who seem to be most affected by the virus.
Traditionally it's been hard to treat the coronavirus that causes FIP in cats, but scientists have found that COVID drugs seem to be quite effective, Dr Vally said.
"That's another tool we have to treat to deal with a situation by giving cats human coronavirus drugs."
But it's important to note that Fe-Cov-23 and COVID-19 were both distinct viruses even though they were from the coronavirus family, he said.
A Department of Agriculture spokesperson said Feline enteric coronavirus (FeCV) was "found in cats throughout the world, including in Australia.
"It is not in itself an important pathogen, but in some cases due to a mutation in the virus and host factors it can cause feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), a severe disease in cats."
It cannot be transmitted to humans, the department said.
The spokesperson said there were "no specific requirements relating to feline coronavirus in cats being imported into Australia".
"Cats are required to undergo a veterinary health examination close to the time of intended departure to Australia. Only cats that are free from clinical signs of any infectious or contagious disease are eligible to travel to Australia."
"While Australia continues to allow the import of cats, there is a chance that new strains of FECV could be imported. This may not become apparent until some months or years later."
The department will continue to monitor the situation closely, the spokesperson said.