Pet shop

Hong Kong to cull all hamsters in pet stores after mammal tests positive for Covid-19 in world first

The Hong Kong government will kill all hamsters sold in pet stores after several hamsters at a pet store in Causeway Bay tested positive for Covid-19 – the world’s first such sighting.

An estimated 2,000 hamsters will be killed, including those from 34 local pet stores, as authorities have been calling on citizens to return purchased hamsters since December 22.

All animals, including rabbits and chinchillas from the Causeway Bay pet store and the store’s Tai Po warehouse, will also be killed, although none tested positive as of Tuesday afternoon.

The decision to cull the animals was taken as authorities have yet to scientifically confirm whether the hamsters can infect humans.

Hamsters at the Little Boss pet store have tested positive for coronavirus after a 67-year-old employee and customer were diagnosed with Covid. The client’s husband also tested positive for the virus today.

At a regular Covid-19 press conference, Chuang Shuk-kwan of the Center for Health Protection said the customer’s daughter purchased a hamster from Little Boss on January 4. She went to the store on January 8 to swap a cage and buy some pet food. The infected staff member took his money.

Health workers tested 78 samples from hamsters, chinchillas and rabbits inside the store. Eleven hamster samples tested positive.

They also took 511 samples from the Tai Po warehouse. Some environmental samples, including cages, tested positive. Further results are still pending.

Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Director Dr Leung Siu-fai said the two batches of hamsters in question were imported from the Netherlands on December 22 and January 7.

Leung said more than 1,000 hamsters sold at the city’s 34 pet shops selling hamsters will be culled, along with another 1,000 small animals from the Tai Po warehouse.

Leung also urged customers who have purchased hamsters in Hong Kong since Dec. 22 to hand over their hamsters to health authorities while pet owners will be subject to mandatory Covid tests.

More than 150 customers who have visited Little Boss since January 7 will have to be quarantined. Around 30 workers working at the Tai Po warehouse will also be quarantined.

When asked if the government made the rash decision to kill all hamsters and disrespect life, officials said they acted out of concern for public health.

“We assessed the risks of these batches to be relatively high and therefore made the decision based on public health needs,” Leung said.

Hamster owners will be sent to the Penny’s Bay Quarantine Center if their animals test positive before being slaughtered. But he said those who refuse to turn over pets to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation will not be breaking the law.

Asking people to turn in hamsters to the AFCD was not a way to confiscate pets, Leung said. “It’s just our call.” There have also been calls for owners not to abandon hamsters on the streets and for people to maintain their hygiene after touching their pets.

A deputy director of agriculture, fisheries and conservation, Thomas Sit Hon-chung, said no animal-to-human transmission has been recorded anywhere.

“But you have to realize and understand that now that the hamsters have been infected, they can infect other animals – other hamsters and human beings. So we don’t want to cull all the animals, but we have to protect public health and animal health. We have no choice.”

He also said government health experts and advisers, including Yuen Kwok-yung, David Hui Shu-cheong and Gabriel Leung Cheuk-wai, also “strongly agree” with the need to cull the hamsters. .

Officials said that although there have been no reports of hamsters being infected outside of laboratories, past experiments show they can be infected with Covid-19.

Aside from the possibility of hamster-to-human transmission, authorities are not ruling out that the pet store customer could be infected by the staff member.

Government adviser Yuen said European countries culled tens of thousands of weasels after finding the animal could be infected with Covid-19.

Yuen said it was concerning that genetic mutations were detected in the samples from the pet store.

” It’s a big problem. If Hong Kong produces a strain of Covid-19 linked to hamsters and it turns out to be more transmissible, it will be bad,” he said in support of the government’s decision to kill hamsters.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said it was shocked by the government’s decision, which “failed to consider animal welfare and the human-animal bond”.

The SPCA hopes the department does not take any drastic action before reviewing its approach, and said it will liaise with the department through various channels and discuss alternative approaches.

Read more: Government hamster cull order leaves owners at crossroads