Culling ordered in Hong Kong after thousands of hamsters get COVID-19

Authorities in Hong Kong said that they will cull about 2,000 small animals, notably hamsters, after some of them tested positive for COVID-19, reports The Associated Press.

The hamsters were discovered to have the virus after an employee at a pet shop tested positive for the delta variant of COVID-19.

Hong Kong also said that the sale of hamsters in the city will be halted, along with the import of other small animals, as several of the COVID-positive hamsters were imported from the Netherlands, the AP reports.

Customers who purchased hamsters from the store after Jan. 7 will be ordered to hand the animals over to authorities to be put down and members of those households will go into quarantine, reports the AP.

People who purchased hamsters after Dec. 22 will also be subject to mandatory testing, according to the AP, and if they test positive, they will also be put into mandatory quarantine. 

About 150 people have been put into quarantine thus far, according to Reuters.

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

“If you own a hamster, you should keep your hamsters at home, do not take them out. 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,” said Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department director Leung Siu-fai. 

A hotline to answer questions about COVID-19 and hamsters was set up in Hong Kong as officials began testing chinchillas and rabbits for COVID-19 as well, but so far, only the hamsters have tested positive for the virus, Reuters notes.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that animals do not appear to play a significant role in spreading the coronavirus, but previously, Denmark has ordered the culling of mink and Russia has developed a COVID-19 vaccine for dogs, cats, foxes and mink.