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Hong Kong leader warns of worsening COVID-19 outbreak, defends hamster cull

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam warned that COVID-19 infections could be growing exponentially in a congested residential area of the city.

Full co-operation: Government staff place wristbands on residents in the Kwun Tong restricted area as proof that they have been tested for COVID-19 during the compulsory testing exercise which ended on January 20. Source - Government of Hong Kong
Full co-operation: Government staff place wristbands on residents in the Kwun Tong restricted area as proof that they have been tested for COVID-19 during the compulsory testing exercise which ended on January 20. Source - Government of Hong Kong

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Saturday warned that COVID-19 infections could be growing exponentially in a congested residential area of the city and that overall cases had also spread due to an outbreak in pet hamsters.

Hong Kong pursues a strict “zero COVID” policy, and after a spate of Delta cases had been linked to a pet shop worker on Tuesday, this prompted officials to test hamsters, with some found to be positive.

All hamsters at the city’s 34 licensed shops were set to be seized for testing and then culled, officials said. Pet shops that sell hamsters were also closed for cleaning, and the authorities tested the shops’ rabbits, chinchillas, and guinea pigs. Shops could reopen once those animals were shown to not be infected.

Lam also urged people to avoid gatherings ahead of next week’s Lunar New Year as officials grappled with an outbreak of the highly-infectious Omicron variant in Kwai Chung, north of the city’s Kowloon peninsula.

“We are worried that the exponential growth of cases that we have seen in other parts of the world is now happening in Kwai Chung,” Lam said, reports CTV News Canada.

On Friday, officials shut down a first Kwai Chung building for five days after more than 20 cases were linked to it, with food delivered from outside three times a day and mass testing underway.

She said that a second Kwai Chung apartment block, home to more than 2,000 people, would be shut down for five days.

Reuters is reporting that the situation is testing Hong Kong’s “zero COVID” strategy focused on eliminating the disease, with schools and gyms already shut, restaurants closing at 6 p.m. (1000 GMT), and air travel with many major hubs halted or severely disrupted.

The BBC is reporting that Lam said that cases involving the Delta variant are also rising, adding, “I understand that pet owners are unhappy… the biggest public interest is to control the pandemic.”

Thousands of people have signed a petition against the move, and thousands more have offered on social media to save the pets.

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