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Hong Kong to cull 2,000 animals after hamsters contract coronavirus

Wildlife officers with personal protective equipment walk outside a temporarily closed pet shop, after the government announced to euthanize around 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

Hong Kong authorities have said 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.

The city will also stop the sale of hamsters and the import of small mammals, according to officials from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department. The pet shop employee tested positive for the Delta variant on Monday, and several hamsters imported from the Netherlands at the store tested positive, as well.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, animals do not appear to play a significant role in spreading the coronavirus. But Hong Kong authorities said they are not ruling out transmission between animals and humans.

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

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“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.”

“Do not kiss your pets,” he added.

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

They said all pet stores in Hong Kong must stop selling hamsters and that about 2,000 small mammals, including hamsters and chinchillas, will be killed in a humane manner.

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Customers who bought hamsters in Hong Kong from December 22 will be subject to mandatory testing and are urged not to contact others until their tests have returned negative. If their hamsters test positive, they will be subject to quarantine.

Hong Kong’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said it was “shocked and concerned” by the decision to kill the animals, and urged the government not to “take any drastic action before reviewing its approach”.

Hong Kong has been grappling with a local Omicron outbreak traced to several Cathay Pacific crew members who dined at bars and restaurants across the city before testing positive for the variant.

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