Hong Kong authorities say they will euthanize around 2,000 small animals — including all hamsters in pet shops — due to concerns around Covid-19 transmission.
On Tuesday, officials said they found 11 hamsters from the Little Boss pet store in the city had tested preliminary positive.
The animals were imported from the Netherlands in two batches, one on January 7 and one on December 22, according to Dr. Leung Siu-fai, director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation.
The samples were taken after a 23-year-old worker at the shop, located in Hong Kong’s busy Causeway Bay district, was confirmed Monday to be infected with the Delta variant.
Generally, health authorities have said that the risk of transmission from animals to humans is possible, but low.
Environmental samples taken at the shop’s warehouse, where the small animals are held, also confirmed traces of coronavirus, officials said.
Authorities have asked the shop to hand over all its small animals, including hamsters, rabbits, chinchillas and guinea pigs, and for people who purchased hamsters after December 22 to hand over their animals to be tested and euthanized.
In addition, pet shops selling hamsters have been asked to hand over the animals. The import of all small animals into the city has been suspended and all pet shops selling hamsters have been asked to suspend operations immediately. These pet shops can reopen once all their small animals have been tested and their results found to be negative, authorities added.
Officials said Tuesday they will also review quarantine measures for imported small animals, including possible testing before and upon arrival.
“We cannot rule out the possibility that when these animals were imported, they were already carrying the coronavirus. In light of this, we cannot rule out the possibility that people in contact with these animals are under higher risks [of infection],” Dr. Edwin Tsui, head of the Centre for Health Protection at the Department of Health, said in a Tuesday news conference.
There have been documented Covid-19 cases in animals who likely caught the virus from humans, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but there is less evidence to suggest the possibility of animal to human transmission.
In November 2020, Denmark said it found a mutated strain of the coronavirus among its mink population that had spread to humans. In response, the government announced the culling of 17 million mink to stop its spread.
Hong Kong’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) says they are “shocked and concerned” over the decision to euthanize more than 2,000 small animals, adding that it “did not take animal welfare and human-animal bond into consideration.”