Residents are being asked to turn in their furry family members ASAP.
Hong Kong recently instituted a “COVID zero” policy in hopes of keeping its population of just over 7.5 million safe. Officials enacted social distancing restrictions, closed bars and gyms, restricted restaurant operating hours, and canceled flights into the global hub. Residents have basically been in lockdown and now the government is asking people in Hong Kong to turn in their pet hamsters for a mass euthanization aimed at curbing the spread of COVID.
A recent cluster of COVID infections in Hong Kong was traced back to a 23-year-old worker at a pet shop that sells hamsters and other pets. This prompted the government to run lab tests on animals around the city, in which 11 hamsters tested positive. Health experts traced the hamsters back to two pet shipments that originated in the Netherlands and arrived in Hong Kong on December 22, 2021 and January 7, 2022, the Washington Post reported. The government deemed that any rodent — mostly hamsters, but also chinchillas — purchased in the shop since the December shipment is “high-risk” for carrying the novel coronavirus and must be tested.
Unfortunately, it won’t actually matter whether the hamsters test positive or not — all the animals will be killed anyway. The testing is to determine whether or not the humans involved will have to undergo quarantine, according to Reuters. A hotline is being set up to answer questions about the pet shop outbreak and about 150 customers are already slated for quarantine.
“Evidence shows that the hamsters are infected with the covid-19 virus. It is impossible to quarantine and observe each of them and their incubation period could be long,” Leung Siu-fai, the director of Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, told the Washington Post. Okay, but if we’re to believe the C.D.C., the risk of animal-to-human COVID transmission is quite low, right? Yes. There is little evidence that animals pose a significant risk to humans contracting coronavirus. We are, in fact, more likely to pass COVID to our pets than vice versa.
So, why all the drama? Well, the pet store employee who contracted COVID tested positive for the Delta variant, which has been rare in Hong Kong, and so did the hamsters. And back in March of 2020, there was a case in Hong Kong in which a person appeared to have contracted COVID from her Pomeranian, so it’s not impossible. Other countries have also culled animals in order to curb the spread of the virus. In November 2020, Denmark killed 17 million minks because of their potential to mutate and spread coronavirus.
Hong Kong officials are defending the actions. “We have to protect public health, and we have no choice,” Thomas Sit, a veterinarian in Hong Kong, told WaPo. Of course I don’t want to see any more people (or hamsters) get sick from COVID, but Hong Kong’s zero tolerance policy feels a bit harsh on humans and this pet killing spree just seems cruel and unnecessary.