Hong Kong Blames COVID Outbreak on Hamsters

2K small animals in the city are now to be culled
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 18, 2022 9:10 AM CST
Updated Jan 18, 2022 9:30 AM CST
Hong Kong Blames COVID Outbreak on Hamsters
Staff members from Hong Kong's Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department investigate Tuesday in a pet shop closed after some pet hamsters tested positive for the coronavirus, according to authorities.   (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

(Newser) – Hong Kong will cull 2,000 small animals after reporting what could be its first-known case of animal-to-human transmission of SARS-CoV-2. A 23-year-old pet shop employee diagnosed as "the city's first untraceable delta infection in more than three months" is thought to have been infected by one of 11 hamsters imported from the Netherlands that have since tested positive for the virus, per the South China Morning Post. A customer of the pet shop in Causeway Bay and the customer's spouse have also tested positive, the BBC reports, though the Guardian describes the two additional cases as occurring in pet shop employees. Reuters reports 150 customers are being quarantined.

Hong Kong's health secretary, Sophia Chan, said there was no evidence of domestic animals infecting humans. However, Edwin Tsui, a controller at the Centre for Health Protection, said "we cannot exclude the possibility that the shopkeeper was in fact actually infected from the hamsters," per the AP. Some 178 hamsters, rabbits, and chinchillas were tested, reports the Guardian. Some 2,000 small animals throughout the country, including hamsters and chinchillas, are now to be euthanized, though no other species at the pet shop and its warehouse are believed to be affected. Pet shops are to turn over their animals, while owners must turn over any hamsters purchased since Dec. 22, per the BBC.

"We have assessed the risks of these batches are relatively high," said Dr. Leung Siu-fai, head of Hong Kong's Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department, per the SCMP. "We urge all pet owners to observe strict hygiene when handling their pets and cages. Do not kiss or abandon them on the streets." An employee at a pet shop on Hong Kong island tells the Guardian that he has 20 hamsters in stock and is waiting for instructions from the government. Some pet shops have been closed, per Reuters. Imports of small animals have been temporarily halted as well. (China on Monday blamed an untraceable omicron infection in Beijing on a package sent from Canada via the US and Hong Kong.)

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