After health officials claimed that they were responsible for spreading COVID-19 to a worker at a Hong Kong pet shop, authorities in Hong Kong ordered the death of approximately 2,000 hamsters.
11 samples of hamsters from the Little Boss Pet Shop in the Chinese Territory have shown positive results for COVID-19 Delta. After a worker in the shop aged 23 tested positive for COVID-19, officials suspected the small creatures.
Although authorities agree Tuesday that there is no proof to suggest pets could transmit the SARS virus to humans (CoV-2), customers who came to the shop after January 7th will still be quarantined. The authorities advised pet owners that purchased hamsters after Dec. 22 to surrender their animals to them for virus testing. The owners of animals that test positive for the virus will be placed in quarantine. The test results will not be affected.
All shops selling hamsters were also told to stop operating.
However, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post Newspaper quoted an unnamed source as saying that health authorities believe “it’s very likely that the transmission this time is from animals to humans.” Genome sequencing of the virus found in the animals, imported from the Netherlands, shows it is the same as the virus present in the pet shop worker.
“We don’t want to cull all the animals,” conservation official Thomas Sit told reporters. “But we need to protect public health and animal health. There is no other choice. We have to make a firm decision.”
It’s the latest dramatic measure Hong Kong officials have taken as part of the city’s “zero COVID” approach. After a cluster of fewer than 100 infections of the Omicron variant broke out in the city of 7.5 million, officials imposed 2020-style social distancing restrictions, including closing bars and gyms and ordering restaurants to stop dine-in service at 6 p.m. All flights from eight countries, including the U.S. and U.K., have been banned, and officials have barred air passengers from 150 countries from traveling through Hong Kong–once a global transit hub. Anybody who is positive for COVID-19 infection will be admitted to hospital. All of their contacts are tracked and placed in quarantine for fourteen days. More than 3,000 people, including international travelers, are currently being held—most at the Penny’s Bay Quarantine Center near Hong Kong Disneyland.
The policy—which has seen the city record fewer than 13,000 cases and 213 COVID-19 deaths—mirrors similar vigilance by mainland China, which has worked to stamp out all traces of infection at any cost. Hong Kong is hoping that Beijing will allow a resumption of quarantine-free travel between the city and the mainland—which is critical to many businesses and families in Hong Kong.
It’s not the first time Hong Kong linked a human’s COVID-19 infection to a pet. A 17-year old Pomeranian was tested positive for the virus at the outbreak of the 2020 pandemic. However, the case was confirmed by health officials. It was the owner who contracted the illness..
Some of the city’s residents took to Twitter to question the mass destruction of the hamsters—including the government’s promise to deal with them “humanely.”
COVID-19 virus is Believed to be the first time a person has jumped from an animal into a humanHowever, animal-to-human transmissions of COVID-19 virus disease have yet to be proven scientifically. Residents were advised by authorities not to leave their animals on the streets. Instead, they should call the conservation officers to take care of the hamsters or bring them to their offices.
Learn more China’s Coronavirus Lockdown Sees Surge in Abandoned Pets
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that COVID-19 is a virus that can be transmitted from one animal to another. However, the chances of it being passed between animals and humans are low.