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Hong Kong to kill thousands of hamsters after COVID-19 outbreak

Hong Kong authorities will cull some 2,000 small rodents after hamsters in a pet shop tested preliminary positive for the Delta variant of COVID-19, the first to be discovered in a natural environment.

Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Leung Siu-fai announced in a press conference on Tuesday that pet shops selling hamsters were required to temporarily suspend their businesses and handover the rodents to the department for euthanasia after testing, regardless of the result.

He also “strongly advised” pet owners who had bought a hamster in Hong Kong from Dec. 22 to turn them over.

The announcement was made amid concerns over animal to human transmission, after 11 hamsters at Little Boss pet shop in Causeway Bay, tested preliminary positive for the virus. Environmental samples obtained from its Tai Po warehouse, which housed the imported hamsters from the Netherlands, also tested positive.

“Although there was no evidence internationally to prove animals can spread COVID-19 to humans, but for the sake of prudence, we will implement preventive measures on every possible route of transmission,” Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee said. 

The virus was detected after a 23-year-old pet shop worker and a 67-year-old woman who visited the venue on Jan. 8 were infected.

University of Hong Kong microbiologist and government advisor Yuen Kwok-yung told the reporters in the evening that it was essential to make such a decision and praised the judgment as “decisive and wise.”

“I use this species in the laboratory for experiments every day, which are very sensitive towards the virus and are easily infected,” he said.

He also said the hamsters will spread out a lot of viruses in the first 10 days, which means a long time for transmission. 

Yeung Lin-hing, who owns one of the 34 affected pet stores, said he would follow the government’s request and hand over his hamsters on Wednesday. 

“During the swine flu pandemic, we also need to kill the pigs. My hamsters are similar,”  he said. 

But he said he was uncertain about how the positive cases of hamsters in Causeway Bay affected the hamsters in his shop, which is located in North Point. 

A petition submitted to the authorities and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to save the hamsters has reached nearly 24,000 signatures in one day.

The SPCA said it was shocked by the incident and criticised the government for not considering animal welfare and human-animal bonds.

The SPCA also said it hoped the authorities would review their existing approach before taking any drastic actions and would liaise with them to discuss alternative measures.

It urged pet owners not to panic or abandon their pets and to maintain personal hygiene.

“If you have any doubts about your pet's condition, please seek professional advice from your veterinarian,”  a spokesperson from the SPCA said.

《The Young Reporter》

The Young Reporter (TYR) started as a newspaper in 1969. Today, it is published across multiple media platforms and updated constantly to bring the latest news and analyses to its readers.


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