Authorities in Hong Kong on Tuesday ordered the cull of 2,000 small animals after several hamsters at a pet store in the city tested positive for Covid-19, raising concerns about the pet rodents acting as a potential reservoir for the coronavirus although there is no evidence of transmission back into humans.
The order was made after samples collected from 11 hamsters and two employees at a pet store returned positive for Covid-19, the South China Morning Post reported.
Following the positive tests, Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department has suspended the sale and import of small animals into the city.
Customers who purchased hamsters from the affected store after January 7 will be subject to mandatory quarantine and will also have to hand over their pet rodents to authorities for euthanization.
Other hamster owners have been asked to keep their pets at home, not take them out, not kiss them or abandon them on the streets.
According to the Associated Press, City officials acknowledged that there was “no evidence” that pets could transmit the virus to their owners, but noted the culling was being undertaken as a precautionary measure.
In late 2020, the Danish government ordered the culling of up to 17 million mink, which are highly susceptible to the coronavirus. This was undertaken amid fears that the virus could mutate into a more dangerous strain among minks and be transmitted back into humans. Last year, a study carried out in the U.S. detected the presence of Covid-19 antibodies in white-tailed deer across five U.S. states. This raised fears that America’s 38 million white-tailed deer could act as a permanent reservoir for the coronavirus, making its eradication impossible. Other animals that have tested positive for Covid-19 include several large cats including tigers and lions at zoos across the world.
In a separate case, Hong Kong police arrested two former flight attendants in the city for allegedly breaking the city’s isolation rules for people with suspected infections. The two attendants, who eventually tested positive for Covid-19, arrived from the U.S. on December 24 and 25 and then “conducted unnecessary activities” while under medical surveillance. While the authorities did not name the attendants’ employer, Cathay Pacific announced that it has fired two crew members for breaching Covid-19 protocols.
Hong Kong to cull 2,000 animals after hamsters get Covid-19 (Associated Press)
Coronavirus: 2,000 hamsters to be culled over fears of first animal-to-human transmission in Hong Kong (South China Morning Post)
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