Hong Kong authorities said on Tuesday they would kill around 2,000 small animals, including hamsters, after several tested positive for coronavirus at a pet store where an employee was also infected.
The city will also stop the sale of hamsters and the import of small mammals, according to Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation officials. The pet store employee tested positive for the delta variant on Monday, and several hamsters imported to the store from the Netherlands also tested positive.
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, animals do not appear to play a significant role in the spread of the coronavirus. But authorities in Hong Kong have said they do not rule out transmission between animals and humans.
“We cannot rule out the possibility that the merchant was in fact infected by the hamsters,” said Edwin Tsui, comptroller at the Center for Health Protection.
While this coronavirus likely jumped from animals to humans in the first place, the outbreak has become a pandemic because the virus spreads so easily between people. Mink are the only animals known to have picked up the virus from humans and spread it, according to Dr. Scott Weese of the Ontario Veterinary College.
Leung Siu-fai, director of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation, told a press conference that owners should keep hamsters at home and not take them out. “All pet owners should observe good personal hygiene, and after contact with animals and their food you should wash your hands,” he said.
“Don’t kiss your pets,” he added.
Customers who purchased hamsters from the store after Jan. 7 will be tracked down and subject to mandatory quarantine and must hand over their hamsters to authorities for culling, officials said.
They said all pet shops in Hong Kong should stop selling hamsters and that around 2,000 small mammals, including hamsters and chinchillas, would be humanely killed.
Customers who purchased hamsters in Hong Kong from December 22 will be subject to mandatory testing and are asked not to contact others until their tests come back negative. If their hamsters test positive, they will be quarantined.
Hong Kong’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said it was “shocked and concerned” by the decision to kill the animals and urged the government “not to take drastic measures before reviewing its approach”.
Hong Kong is grappling with a local omicron outbreak attributed to several Cathay Pacific crew members who dined in bars and restaurants around the city before testing positive for the omicron variant.
The government announced on Monday evening that two former flight attendants had been arrested for leaving their homes during quarantine and were later confirmed to have coronavirus infections. He did not identify their employer, but said the two men had arrived from the United States on December 24 and 25 and had “carried out unnecessary activities” under medical supervision.
The arrests came after Cathay Pacific said it fired two crew members for breaking coronavirus protocols. He previously apologized and called their actions “hugely disappointing”. The company had to reduce its flights – passengers and cargo – in January due to the tightening of anti-virus measures.
Both men have been released on bail and will be heard in court on February 9. If found guilty of violating anti-epidemic regulations, they could face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to HK$5,000 ($642). ).
Previously in Hong Kong, some air and sea crew members could self-isolate at home under quarantine exemptions. Regulations were tightened on Dec. 31 to require crew members to self-isolate at a designated quarantine hotel for about a week.
This story has been corrected to say that 2,000 small animals will be killed, including hamsters. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that 2,000 hamsters would be killed.