Hong Kong plans to cull 2,000 hamsters over Covid fears. Pet homeowners are outraged

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The announcement by the Hong Kong authorities on Tuesday was met with outrage by pet homeowners and animals rights advocates, with a number of on-line petitions urging authorities to rethink.

It comes after an rising cluster linked to the Little Boss pet retailer, the place a 23-year-old worker was confirmed constructive for the Delta variant on Monday. A buyer who visited the shop and interacted with the worker later examined constructive as nicely.

After investigating the pet retailer, officers stated on Tuesday that 11 hamsters had examined preliminary constructive for Covid, elevating issues round the potential for animal-to-human transmission.

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Environmental samples taken on the store’s warehouse, the place different species of small animals are held, additionally confirmed traces of coronavirus, officers stated. The hamsters on the pet retailer had been imported from the Netherlands in two batches — on December 22 and January 7.

On Tuesday, authorities seized all of the small animals within the store, together with hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas, to be examined and euthanized — whatever the check outcome — citing a well being hazard to the general public.

All pet shops promoting hamsters within the metropolis have been ordered at hand the animals over to be put down, with related orders for anyone who purchased a hamster within the lead-up to Christmas, starting December 22.

Photographs on Tuesday evening present Covid management employees in hazmat fits at quite a few pet shops, disinfecting the premises and bringing out cumbersome crimson plastic luggage.

All animals taken from the shop can be handled “humanely,” authorities stated.

Hong Kong government workers investigate the Little Boss pet store on January 18.

Authorities additionally suspended the import of all small animals into the town, and instructed all pet shops promoting hamsters to droop operations instantly till all their small animals have examined damaging. Officers urged residents on Tuesday to “undertake good hygiene practices” with their pets, together with avoiding kissing them.

Greater than 20,000 folks have signed the most important on-line petition urging the federal government to not cull the animals. Some social media customers stated many hamsters might have been purchased across the holidays as presents for younger youngsters.

“Hamsters are our household, everyone please assume rationally, do not give them up due to one incident,” stated the Hamster Concern Society, a volunteer group in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) stated in an announcement it was “shocked and anxious” by the federal government’s choice, which “didn’t take animal welfare and human-animal bond into consideration.”

In a Fb publish on Wednesday, the hamster concern group stated it had been flooded with questions and pleas from anxious pet homeowners. “My family’s hamster wasn’t purchased from a pet retailer, however my household could be very nervous and need me to ship it away,” stated one proprietor, in response to the group. “However I do not need to, is there any technique to check my hamster?

A police officer stands guard outside a pet store that was closed after some pet hamsters tested positive for Covid-19 in Hong Kong on January 18.

In accordance with the US Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention, there have been documented Covid-19 circumstances in animals who seemingly caught the virus from people — nonetheless, there’s far much less proof to recommend the potential for animal-to-human transmission.

However authorities defended the cull, arguing it was within the curiosity of public well being and security.

Hong Kong has caught to a strict zero-Covid method, aiming to stamp out all circumstances internally whereas sustaining strict border controls, whilst more and more transmissible variants — first Delta and now Omicron — make that an increasing number of troublesome.

Hong Kong is likely one of the few locations nonetheless adhering to that technique, within the hopes of reopening its border with mainland China, which continues to lock down hundreds of thousands of residents in an try to eradicate Covid.

A spokesperson for the town’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Division (AFCD) stated Tuesday that each one hamsters can be killed no matter their check outcome as a result of the virus’ incubation interval means “damaging check outcomes don’t essentially imply that the hamsters haven’t been contaminated.”

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He added that the federal government would not have the services or means to check greater than a thousand hamsters every single day, not to mention isolating and quarantining all of the small animals within the metropolis — so killing them was “a protected and possible technique to management the epidemic.”

Testing and isolating pets, and killing solely those decided to be a menace, “couldn’t management the epidemic utterly and should trigger loopholes,” he added.

Mainland China has additionally taken related measures towards pets throughout the pandemic.

In September, group employees in Harbin metropolis killed three pet cats who examined constructive for the virus whereas their proprietor was in hospital quarantine, with out her consent. The same incident two months later in Shangrao metropolis noticed Covid prevention employees violently kill a corgi whereas its proprietor was in obligatory quarantine.
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Each circumstances went viral on Chinese language social media, sparking widespread dismay and anger amongst pet homeowners and sympathizers — although some posters argued human lives had been extra vital to guard than these of animals.

The Hong Kong AFCD spokesperson additionally pointed to European international locations just like the Netherlands and Denmark that had performed related mass cullings over Covid transmission issues.

In November 2020, Denmark stated it discovered a mutated pressure of the coronavirus amongst its mink inhabitants that had unfold to people. In response, the federal government introduced the culling of 17 million mink to cease its unfold.

However the choice was controversial — and, it emerged final 12 months, unlawful. The federal government was thrown into turmoil when it emerged there had been no authorized foundation to order the cull of wholesome mink, ultimately resulting in the resignation of the agriculture minister. When the prime minister was known as into court docket in December and grilled on the mink culling as protesters marched exterior, she responded: “There isn’t a rationalization (for the oversight) apart from that it was busy.”
Danish authorities had been later pressured to dig up hundreds of lifeless mink after the gasoline used to kill them triggered carcasses to swell and resurface from their mass graves.

Denmark’s parliament commissioned an inquiry into whether or not ministers had recognized that the authorized framework was absent, with the investigation set to complete in April.

CNN’s Wayne Chang, Lizzy Yee and Teele Rebane contributed to this report. Extra reporting by Reuters.

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