According to Hong Kong, hamsters may have infected a pet store employee with COVID-19. Now they all have to die

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golden hamster

A golden hamster (Mesocricetus auratus) sits with its young in the nest. A mass cull of hamsters is the latest in Hong Kong’s dramatic ‘zero COVID’ measures to stop any further spread of the virus. Credit – Arterra/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

The authorities in Hong Kong ordered the deaths of some 2,000 hamsters and other small rodents after health officials said they may have been responsible for infecting a pet store worker with COVID-19.

Eleven hamster samples from the Little Boss pet store in China tested positive for the Delta variant of COVID-19. Official suspicion fell on the tiny creatures after a 23-year-old pet store worker tested positive for COVID-19.

While authorities agreed on Tuesday that there is no evidence to date that pets can transmit the SARS-CoV-2 virus to humans, customers who visited the store after January 7 will be subject at forty. Pet owners who purchased hamsters from December 22 have been urged to hand over their animals to authorities to be tested for the virus. If animals test positive, owners will be required to quarantine. Regardless of the test result, the hamster will be put down.

All stores selling hamsters have also been ordered to cease operations.

However, China South of Hong Kong morning shift newspaper quoted an unnamed source as saying that health authorities believe “it is very likely that transmission this time will be from animals to humans”. Genome sequencing of the virus found in the animals, imported from the Netherlands, shows that it is the same as the virus present in the pet store employee.

“We don’t want to cull all the animals,” conservation manager Thomas Sit told reporters. “But we have to protect public health and animal health. We have no choice. We have to make a firm decision. »

It’s the latest dramatic step 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, authorities imposed 2020-style social distancing restrictions, including closing bars and gyms and ordering restaurants to stop food service at 6 p.m. eight countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, have been banned, and authorities have barred air passengers from 150 countries from traveling through Hong Kong, once a global transit hub. Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 is admitted to hospital and their close contacts are traced and confined in a government facility for 14 days of quarantine. More than 3,000 people, including international travellers, are currently detained, most at Penny’s Bay Quarantine Center near Hong Kong Disneyland.

The policy – ​​which has seen the city record fewer than 13,000 COVID-19 cases and 213 deaths – reflects the same mainland china vigilance, who tried to eliminate all traces of infection at all costs. Hong Kong hopes Beijing will allow a resumption of quarantine-free travel between the city and the mainland, which is essential for many businesses and families in Hong Kong.

This is not the first time that Hong Kong has linked a human’s COVID-19 infection to a pet. At the start of the pandemic in 2020, a 17-year-old Pomeranian tested positive for the virus. But in this case, health authorities have confirmed the dog contracted the infection from its owner.

Some townspeople have taken to Twitter to question the mass destruction of hamsters, including the government’s promise to treat them “humanely”.

The virus behind COVID-19 is thinks I jumped from animal to human, but animal-to-human transmission of the COVID-19 disease has not yet been scientifically proven. Authorities have advised townspeople not to abandon their pets on the streets and instead call conservation officials to deal with the hamsters or bring them directly to their offices.

Read more: China’s coronavirus lockdown sees a rise in abandoned pets

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says dogs, cats and other animals can be infected with COVID-19, but the risk of animal-to-human transmission is low.

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