Hong Kong will put 2,000 hamsters to death as a precautionary measure after one pet shop worker and several adorable little rodents tested positive for the Delta variant of the coronavirus last week.
According to the South China Morning Post, the Delta infection was detected in a 23-year-old woman who worked at the Little Boss pet shop—the city’s first untraceable Delta infection since the fall. Then, on Tuesday, 11 samples taken from hundreds of hamsters came back positive, and authorities came down very hard on the fluffy little critters.
Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Dr. Leung Siu-fai announced Tuesday that around 2,000 hamsters will be killed. All customers who bought hamsters from the store after Jan. 7 will be forced to hand over their pets for execution, and the owners will be made to enter a mandatory quarantine. The import of hamsters is also banned.
On top of that, anyone who bought a hamster as a pet in Hong Kong from Dec. 22 onwards will be made to take a coronavirus test, and they’ve been told to stay in their homes until they receive a negative result.
The incredibly harsh measures came despite authorities in Hong Kong acknowledging there’s “no evidence” that pets can pass COVID to humans, but they said they had to take precautionary action just in case. The Beijing-ruled city is copying China’s zero-tolerance approach to the pandemic even as much of the world slackens its rules.
“We have assessed the risks of these batches are relatively high and therefore made the decision based on public health needs,” Leung said Tuesday. “We urge all pet owners to observe strict hygiene when handling their pets and cages. Do not kiss or abandon them on the streets... If citizens are raising hamsters, they should keep them at home.”
Leung promised that the 2,000 little fluffballs will be put down “humanely,” and authorities are setting up a hotline for worried hamster-owners who have any questions about the strict new rules.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says the risk of animals spreading the virus to people is “low,” and “no evidence” has yet been established to suggest that pets play any significant role in the pandemic. However, humans seem able to pass a mild infection to their pets.
One possible exception is minks, which have been reported to have spread the disease to humans on mink farms in Europe. In 2020, Denmark killed some 17 million minks after they were accused of spreading the virus, but the government has since admitted that at least some of the minks were killed and buried improperly.