Hong Kong wants to mass euthanize hamsters

On Wednesday, the Hong Kong government faced outrage 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 killed as a “precautionary measure,” the government said on Tuesday.

The import of these animals was also prohibited. This slaughterhouse was ordered following Covid-19 cases at the pet store. On Tuesday evening, employees wearing protective gear walked out of said store with red trash bags in their hands, marked with a biohazard warning.

Planned euthanasia

Authorities “strongly urged” anyone who purchased a small mammal after December 22, shortly before Christmas, to bring them an animal for euthanasia. Outside the state animal center on Wednesday, a man who asked to be identified only by his last name, Howe, told AFP that his 10-year-old son was inconsolable at the thought of losing “Pudding,” a recently purchased hamster. . “I have no choice, the government has made this very serious,” he said, showing videos of his son crying in front of Pudding’s pink cage. However, he admitted that he worries about his elderly parents, with whom he lives.

Animal lovers in Hong Kong quickly reacted with outrage: a Change.org petition garnered more than 23,000 signatures in less than a day, and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) condemned the government’s decision. “SPCA is shocked and concerned about the recent announcement that more than 2,000 animals have been treated,” she said in a statement sent to AFP on Wednesday. “We urge pet owners not to panic and abandon their pets.”

A group of hamster lovers on Facebook said it had received more than 20 inquiries about whether owners should give up their pets.

Police checking collection points

The Hong Kong government on Friday asked animal friends not to intervene in the ongoing slaughter of hundreds of small mammals.

A police van was parked in front of a collection point, Hong Kong television reported Friday. No sanctions are currently planned against pet owners who wish to keep their hamsters. However, health authorities have said there are legal means in Hong Kong to force people to hand over the animals.

They also warned of an “increased risk” of virus transmission from animals to humans following the discovery of other positive Covid cases linked to other local pet stores. The city’s leading microbiologist, who advises the government on Covid, said mass culling is necessary to “avoid disaster.” “We have reason to believe that the source (of this infection) is a warehouse where more than a thousand hamsters remained. The virus could multiply by cross-infection and spread in pet stores and other outlets,” – Yuen Kwok-jung. wrote in a post on Wednesday.

No evidence of animal transmission of Covid

Authorities said the hamsters that tested positive for Covid-19 were likely imported from the Netherlands. “Internationally, there is no evidence yet that pets can transmit the coronavirus to humans, but (…) we are taking precautions” against any risk of transmission,” Health Minister Sophia Chan said at a press conference.

Hong Kong’s “Covid zero” strategy consists of draconian entry restrictions, case tracking and mass checks. This approach kept pollution levels very low, but cut off this financial center to a large extent from the rest of the world.

People refuse to obey

“No one will take my hamster away from me unless they kill me,” an unidentified woman who bought her pet on January 1 told local media on Wednesday. She questioned the government’s decision to mass slaughter animals, recalling that in early January, several dozen high-ranking Hong Kong officials were sent to a quarantine camp for attending a birthday party in which two attendees tested positive for Covid-19 HIV. . “If all the people who were present at the birthday party are eliminated, I will hand over my hamster to the government,” she began, wondering: “Are they also going to kill all Covid-19 infected patients and their loved ones? “

The move was mocked on social media, with people posting images of hamsters wearing surgical masks or facing the Grim Reaper.

Indiscriminate killing

On Tuesday evening, the city’s largest opposition party said the policy of “indiscriminate killing” would only cause “public discontent.” “If cats, dogs or other animals test positive for the coronavirus in the future, will they also be targeted?” – Felix Chow, a representative of the Democratic Party, wrote on the group’s official Facebook page.

Others are tempering. Renowned microbiologist Yuen Kwok-Jung, who is also a government adviser, called the measure “drastic” and “cautious.” When asked about the shooting of hamsters in Hong Kong, representatives of the World Health Organization said that some animal species can be infected with the coronavirus and transmit it to people. “This risk remains low, but we are constantly reviewing it,” said Maria Van Kerkhove of the WHO.

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