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.
This slaughter was ordered after the appearance of cases of Covid-19 in a pet store. On Tuesday evening, employees in protective gear emerged from the store in question, carrying red garbage bags marked with a biohazard warning.
Animal advocates step up
Animal lovers in Hong Kong were quick to hit back 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) denounced the government’s decision. “The SPCA is shocked and concerned by the recent announcement regarding the treatment of over 2,000 animals,” it said in a statement 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.
Can hamsters transmit the virus?
The hamsters that tested positive for Covid-19 were likely imported from the Netherlands, authorities said. “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.
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.
No one will take my hamster away from me unless they kill me
“No one will take my hamster away from me unless they kill me,” local media told Wednesday The Standard an unidentified woman who purchased her pet on January 1. She questioned the government’s decision to slaughter the animals on a massive scale, recalling that several dozen senior Hong Kong officials had been sent to a quarantine camp in early January for attending a birthday party where two participants had tested positive for HIV. Covid-19.
“If all the people who attended the birthday party are eliminated, I will hand over my hamster to the government”, she launched, wondering: “are they also going to kill all the infected patients by Covid-19 and their loved ones? Social media mocked the decision, with people posting illustrations of hamsters wearing surgical masks or facing off against the Grim Reaper.
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. 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.