Hong Kong is to cull 2,000 hamsters after the suspected transmission of Covid-19 from an animal to a pet shop owner.
Local media reported that agriculture authorities ordered people who purchased hamsters after December 22 to hand over their pets and take a compulsory Covid test.
Hamster sales have been stopped while experts investigate the infection chain at an outbreak that began at the city’s Little Boss pet shop.
About 1,000 animals from Little Boss and its warehouse will be seized and put down, while staff and customers have been sent for testing.
Another 1,000 hamsters from dozens of other pet shops across Hong Kong will also be killed and the businesses have been ordered to close temporarily. Imports of small mammals will be suspended, officials added.
The grim fate of thousands of household rodents was sealed after a 23-year-old employee in the central Causeway Bay outlet tested positive for the Delta variant from an unknown origin.
In surreal scenes yesterday evening, agriculture department officials in full hazmat suits arrived in two vans outside the pet shop to collect the ill-fated animals, while police officers cordoned off the area.
A source told the South China Morning Post that the authorities feared it could be the first ever transmission from an animal to a human in Hong Kong and were currently probing the link.
“Genome sequencing [done on the worker’s virus sample] found that the genome type was the one circulating in Europe and Pakistan,” the source said. “There is a chance [of infection] through hamsters imported from the Netherlands, which also had that genome type [found on the worker].
“That’s why it’s very likely that the transmission this time is from animals to humans.”
Like mainland China, Hong Kong is still pursuing a “zero Covid” policy and imposing some of the strictest restrictions in the world. It currently requires a 21-day-quarantine for inbound travellers, with stiff penalties for breaches.
The mass euthanasia of hamsters suggests the authorities are unwilling to take any chances of the virus getting a further foothold. (©Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022)
Telegraph Media Group Limited