The Hong Kong government faced protests on Wednesday following 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 killed as a “precautionary measure,” the government said on Tuesday. The import of these animals was also prohibited.
On Tuesday evening, employees wearing protective gear walked out of said store with red trash bags in their hands, marked with a biohazard warning. Animal lovers in Hong Kong quickly reacted 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) condemned the government’s decision.
Imported from the Netherlands
“SPCA is shocked and concerned about the recent announcement that more than 2,000 animals have been treated,” she said in a statement sent to AFP on Wednesday. “We urge pet owners not to panic and abandon their pets.”
A group of hamster lovers on Facebook said it had received more than 20 inquiries about whether owners should give up their pets. Anyone who bought a hamster after December 22 was also “strongly urged” by authorities to euthanize their furry friend. Authorities said the hamsters that tested positive for Covid-19 were likely imported from the Netherlands.
“Internationally, there is no evidence yet that pets can transmit the coronavirus to humans, but (…) we are taking precautions” against any risk of transmission,” Health Minister Sophia Chan said at a press conference.
On Tuesday evening, the city’s largest opposition party said the policy of “indiscriminate killing” would only cause “public discontent.” “If cats, dogs or other animals test positive for the coronavirus in the future, will they also be targeted? – Felix Chow, a representative of the Democratic Party, wrote on the group’s official Facebook page.
Zero Covid strategy
Others are tempering. Renowned microbiologist Yuen Kwok-Jung, who is also a government adviser, called the measure “drastic” and “cautious.” When asked about the shooting of hamsters in Hong Kong, representatives of the World Health Organization said that some animal species can be infected with the coronavirus and transmit it to people. “This risk remains low, but we are constantly reviewing it,” said Maria Van Kerkhove of the WHO.
Hong Kong’s “Covid zero” strategy consists of draconian entry restrictions, case tracking and mass checks. This approach kept pollution levels very low, but cut off this financial center to a large extent from the rest of the world.