Hong Kong: One surrendered hamster tests Covid positive, as over 2,500 animals culled

One of the hamsters surrendered to authorities in Hong Kong has tested positive for Covid-19, officials have said.

Earlier this week, the southeast Asian region announced a drive to cull nearly 2,000 hamsters after 11 contracted the virus at a pet shop.

Officials asked pet owners to hand over hamsters purchased in the last four weeks to be euthanised. As of 22 January, a total of 2,512 animals, including 2,229 hamsters, have been “humanely dispatched”, the government said in a statement.

Though some small rodents had tested positive for the coronavirus infection earlier, this is the first case involving a hamster that was in the care of a pet owner, authorities have said.

But the government’s strategy has drawn severe criticism, and thousands of people had offered to hide or adopt the unwanted hamsters. Some groups even offered to backdate receipts to falsely show that hamsters were purchased before 22 December, which is the deadline set by the administration. Many also waited outside collection centres to try to dissuade pet owners from handing in their hamsters.

The Carrie Lam administration called the backlash irrational. “[The government] strongly advises members of the public again to surrender … as soon as possible their hamsters purchased in local pet shops on or after 22 December 2021 for humane dispatch,” the government said in its latest statement on Sunday.

People stand under a banner for a pet shop where an employee and a customer later tested positive for Covid-19 after handling hamsters

(AFP via Getty Images)

The 11 hamsters that initially tested positive were imported from the Netherlands and sold at a local pet store called Little Boss. A worker at the store as well as a 67-year-old customer have also tested positive. Traces of the virus were found at an off-site warehouse too.

All pet shops selling hamsters in the city were also ordered to shut down for further testing and cleaning.

While the Hong Kong government has said it cannot take any chances in its efforts to maintain a “zero-Covid” strategy, animal lovers and welfare organisations are still angry at the measures.

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