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Hong Kong to cull 2,000 hamsters after COVID-19 outbreak in a pet shop

"Peach" is a pet Golden Hamster. Image dated March 2, 2007. Source - TetraHydroCannabinol. CC SA 3.0.
"Peach" is a pet Golden Hamster. Image dated March 2, 2007. Source - TetraHydroCannabinol. CC SA 3.0.

Hong Kong authorities said Tuesday that they will kill about 2,000 small animals, including hamsters, after several tested positive for the coronavirus at a pet store where an employee was also infected.

Authorities also plan on banning the import of small animals after a pet shop worker, a customer, and at least 11 hamsters tested positive for the Delta variant of the coronavirus, reports the New York Times.

On Tuesday, Edwin Tsui, a controller at the Centre for Health Protection, said, “We cannot exclude the possibility that the shopkeeper was in fact actually infected from the hamsters.”

“If you own a hamster, you should keep your hamsters at home, do not take them out,” department director Leung Siu-fai said at a news conference. “All pet owners should observe good personal hygiene, and after you have been in contact with animals and their food, you should wash your hands.”

As a precautionary measure, customers who purchased hamsters from the store after Jan. 7 will be traced and be subject to mandatory quarantine and must hand over their hamsters to authorities to be put down, officials said.

Animals and coronavirus a touchy issue

The hamsters in question were imported from the Netherlands in two shipments –  including about 1,800 brought in on Dec. 22 and more than 800 that arrived on Jan. 7.

“They’re excreting the virus, and the virus can infect other animals, other hamsters, and also human beings,” said Thomas Sit, assistant director of Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department. “We don’t want to cull all the animals, but we have to protect public health and animal health. We have no choice — we have to make a firm decision.”

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

The move has not gone over well with the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which runs veterinary clinics, according to Reuters.

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

However, many people tend to forget that Hong Kong has a painful history of infectious disease, including nearly 300 deaths from SARS in 2003. In 1997, it slaughtered more than one million chickens — every chicken in the territory — to stop the spread of an avian flu virus, and the city has since carried out smaller culls when infected birds are found.

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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