Hong Kong will kill 2,000 hamsters after COVID-19 outbreak
Hong Kong will kill 2,000 hamsters after COVID-19 outbreak

Hong Kong will kill 2,000 hamsters after COVID-19 outbreak

People are facing a temporary closure of the pet store after the government announced it would kill about 2,000 hamsters in the city after finding evidence for the first time of possible animal-to-human transmission of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Hong Kong, China, January 18, 2022. REUTERS / Tyrone Siu

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  • Hamsters should be slaughtered after positive coronavirus tests
  • Hong Kong tests hundreds of rodents, chinchillas and rabbits
  • The territory follows China’s strict COVID-19 regime
  • Infected hamsters came from Holland TV
  • Russia and Denmark also intervened against animals in pandemics

HONG KONG, January 18 (Reuters) – Hong Kong warned people against kissing pets and ordered a mass extermination of hamsters on Tuesday, to the indignation of animal lovers, after 11 of the rodents tested positive for COVID-19.

A recent human coronavirus cluster traced to a pet trader led to the control of hundreds of animals in Chinese-controlled territory, with 11 hamsters found infected, officials said.

As a response to the mainland’s zero-tolerance policy, even though much of the world is switching to living with COVID, Hong Kong ordered 2,000 hamsters “humanely” shut down, and imports and sales stopped.

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Various pet stores were closed and disinfected around town, while men in protective gear searched the store in the heart of the cluster in the bustling Causeway Bay district.

The local Society for the Prevention of Animal Abuse, which runs veterinary clinics, called for a reconsideration.

“The SPCA is shocked and concerned about the recent government announcement on the handling of over 2,000 small animals that did not take animal welfare and the human-animal bond into account,” it said.

Health Minister Sophia Chan told a news conference that the authorities acted with caution even though there was no evidence that domestic animals can infect humans.

“Pet owners should maintain good hygiene practices, including washing hands after touching the animals, handling their food or other objects and avoiding kissing the animals,” Leung Siu-fai Leung, director of agriculture, fisheries and conservation, also told reporters.

Hong Kong has also tested rabbits and chinchillas, but only the hamsters were positive. They were all imported from the Netherlands, according to the local TV station RTHK.

There have been cases of coronavirus around the world dogs and cats also, although scientists say there is no evidence that animals play a major role in human infection.

HAMSTER HOTLINE

Leung said the Hong Kong hamsters had to be euthanized as it was impossible to quarantine them and observe each one. Buyers of hamsters after December 22, 2021 should hand them over to the authorities for killing and not leave them on the street, he added.

A hotline for inquiries was being set up while about 150 of the pet store’s customers were quarantined, officials said.

September last year, three pet cats tested positive for coronavirus were knocked down in the Chinese city of Harbin, causing a backlash on social media. Read more

Another place, Denmark exterminated millions of mink in 2020 to curb COVID-19 mutations. And some Russian regions has inoculated animals against COVID-19 after Moscow said it had registered the world’s first vaccine for animals after testing with dogs, cats, foxes and mink. Read more

Nikolaus Osterrieder, dean of the Jockey Club College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences at City University of Hong Kong, said human-to-animal-to-human transmission chains are rare, but happen as with mink cases.

“It’s obviously a drastic measure, but one that is a consequence of zero Covid (rules),” he said of Hong Kong’s move. “Hamsters are highly susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 and can produce large amounts of viruses.”

The global welfare group World Animal Protection said the measures were premature. “Killing animals should always be a last resort, and we urge governments to first explore other options, such as quarantine,” said research director Jan Schmidt-Burbach.

After three months without any local transmission, Hong Kong has seen dozens of new coronavirus cases in humans this year, triggering new boundaries on flights and social life.

Thousands of people have been sent to a temporary government quarantine facility. Most of the new cases are of the highly contagious new Omicron variant, although the cluster tracked to a pet dealer was Delta.

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Writing by Marius Zaharia and Farah Master; Edited by Andrew Cawthorne

Our standards: Thomson Reuters trust principles.

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