HONG KONG: Animal-lovers were outraged on Tuesday when Hong Kong issued a warning against kissing pets and ordered a mass cull of hamsters after 11 of the rodents tested positive for the virus COVID-19.
A recent coronavirus cluster in humans linked to a pet shop employee prompted officials in the Chinese-ruled territory to conduct checks on hundreds of animals, with 11 hamsters being found to be infected, officials said.
Hong Kong has implemented a zero-tolerance policy in line with the Chinese mainland, even as much of the world adjusts to life with COVID. 2,000 hamsters were “humanely” slaughtered, and imports and sales were prohibited.
Various pet shops around the city were closed and disinfected, while men in protective gear combed through the store at the heart of the cluster in the bustling Causeway Bay district.
According to the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which operates veterinary clinics, there should be another look at the situation.
This week’s government announcement on the handling of over 2,000 small animals, which did not take animal welfare or the human-animal bond into consideration, drew the ire of the SPCA, which issued a statement.
At a press conference, Health Secretary Sophia Chan stated that authorities were acting out of caution despite the fact that there was no evidence that domestic animals could infect humans.
In addition, Leung Siu-fai Leung, director of the Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department, advised pet owners to practise good hygiene, which included washing their hands after touching their animals, handling their food or other items, and refraining from kissing their pets.
Hong Kong has also tested rabbits and chinchillas, but only the hamsters were found to be positive for the virus. According to local broadcaster RTHK, they were all brought in from the Netherlands as a group.
Although coronavirus cases in dogs and cats have been reported in various locations around the world, scientists believe there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in human contagion.
THE HAMSTER HELPLINE
Leung stated that the hamsters from Hong Kong had to be put down because it was impossible to quarantine and observe each individual. Following December 22, 2021, hamsters should be turned over to authorities for culling, rather than being left on the streets, he advised buyers.
According to officials, a hotline for inquiries was being established, and approximately 150 of the pet shop’s customers were being held in quarantine.
Three pet cats in the Chinese city of Harbin were put down in September after testing positive for the coronavirus. The decision sparked outrage on social media.
In other news, Denmark will cull millions of mink by 2020 in order to reduce the number of COVID-19 mutations. Some Russian regions have also begun inoculating animals against COVID-19, following the announcement by Moscow that it had registered the world’s first animal vaccine after testing it on dogs, cats, foxes, and minks.
In a statement, Nikolaus Osterrieder, dean of the Jockey Club College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences at the City University of Hong Kong, said that while transmission chains from human to animal to human are rare, they do occur, as in recent cases involving minks.
Despite the fact that it is a drastic measure, he believes it is a necessary one as a result of the zero Covid (rules) implemented in Hong Kong. According to the researchers, “Hamsters are extremely susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 and can produce large amounts of virus.”
World Animal Protection, a global animal welfare organisation, said the measures were too soon. “Culling animals should always be a last resort, and we encourage governments to consider other alternatives, such as quarantine, first,” said Jan Schmidt-Burbach, research director at the University of Zurich.
Even though there has been no local transmission for three months, Hong Kong has seen dozens of new coronavirus cases in humans this year, resulting in new restrictions on flights and social activities.
Thousands of people have been herded into a makeshift government quarantine facility to await further instructions. A pet shop employee was implicated in a cluster of Delta cases, though the majority of the new cases are of the highly contagious new Omicron strain.