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Hundreds of hamsters slaughtered as a precaution, outrage in Hong Kong

The Hong Kong government was facing an outcry on Wednesday after its decision to cull hundreds of small pets after hamsters tested positive for Covid-19 at a pet store in the city. Nearly 2,000 hamsters and other small mammals (chinchillas, rabbits, guinea pigs) will be slaughtered as a “precautionary measure”, the government said on Tuesday. The import of these animals was also prohibited.

On Tuesday evening, employees in protective gear emerged from the store in question, carrying red garbage bags marked with a biohazard warning. Animal lovers in Hong Kong were quick to respond with outrage: a petition garnered more than 23,000 signatures in less than a day and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) denounced the government’s decision.

Imported from the Netherlands

“The SPCA is shocked and concerned by the recent announcement regarding the treatment of more than 2,000 animals,” she said in a statement sent to AFP on Wednesday. “We urge pet owners not to panic and abandon their pets.”

A Facebook group of hamster lovers said it had received more than 20 inquiries about whether owners should give up their pets. Anyone who purchased a hamster after December 22 was further “strongly encouraged” by authorities to have their furry friend euthanized. The hamsters that tested positive for Covid-19 were likely imported from the Netherlands, authorities said.

A precautionary measure

“At the international level, there is not yet evidence that pets can transmit the coronavirus to humans, but (…) we are taking precautionary measures” against any risk of transmission, said Sophia Chan, Health Secretary at a press conference.

The city’s largest opposition party claimed on Tuesday night that this policy of “indiscriminate killing” will only breed “public resentment”. “If cats, dogs or other animals test positive for coronavirus in the future, will they also be targeted? wrote Felix Chow, a spokesperson for the Democratic Party, on the group’s official Facebook page.

“Zero Covid” strategy

Others temper. Renowned microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung, also an adviser to the government, called the measure “decisive” and “cautious”. Asked about the culling of hamsters in Hong Kong, the World Health Organization said certain animal species can be infected with the coronavirus and transmit it to humans. “This risk remains low, but we are constantly reviewing it,” said WHO’s Maria Van Kerkhove.

Hong Kong’s “zero Covid” strategy consists of draconian restrictions on entry to the territory, tracing of cases and massive screenings. This approach made it possible to maintain a very low level of contamination, but largely cut off this financial center from the rest of the world.


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