Samples from the shop’s warehouse in another part of the city also showed traces of the virus.
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Hong Kong, thinking that imported hamsters might have spread the virus to people, requested the culling of thousands of the small mammals, shut shops selling them and sent in excess of 100 pet shop guests into quarantine camp as a feature of its undeniably fervent quest to take out the virus. The acceleration came after almost a dozen hamsters imported from the Netherlands and sold at a nearby pet store called Little Boss were viewed as tainted with delta, a virulent Covid-19 variant that hadn’t been distinguished in the city for quite a long time until a laborer there tested positive.
All pet shops selling hamsters in Hong Kong — in total 34 — were ordered to shut down immediately pending further testing and cleaning, while people who recently bought hamsters were to turn the animals over to authorities for culling. People who bought hamsters specifically from Little Boss will have to go into government quarantine camp.
About 2,000 small animals, including hamsters, chinchillas and rabbits, will be culled while importation of such creatures has been suspended.
The hamster furore comes as Hong Kong scrambles to stamp out infection in the city, where dozens of cases tied to the more contagious omicron variant have been found after more than half-a-year without any local transmission. Officials in the financial hub and mainland China, the last places in the world still strictly adhering to the Covid-Zero approach, are pointing at frozen food, international mail and animals as potential causes of sporadic flareups that slipped through their strict control and tracing efforts.
“Internationally there hasn’t been evidence pets can pass on Covid to humans,” said Sophia Chan, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Food and Health at a Tuesday briefing. “To be prudent, we will take preventive actions against all possible routes of transmissions that can’t be ruled out to decrease the risk of Covid-19 spread.”
Rare Animal Infections
While animals can contract the coronavirus from humans, there hasn’t been much clear evidence that transmission goes the other way. Most infected animals who have been studied have low viral loads, making it difficult to pass along the pathogen. Cases of humans getting infected after contact with a infected domestic animal are rare. The current situation began when a pet shop clerk was found to be infected with the delta variant earlier this week. The 23-year-old woman had no recent international travel or interaction with anyone known to be at high-risk, creating a mystery around how she contracted the variant that wasn’t known to be circulating in the city.
A customer who interacted with the clerk has also been infected, while her daughter, who purchased the hamster, tested negative. The infected customer’s husband is preliminarily positive. Hong Kong’s hamster cull is the latest intensification of its Covid curbs, after bars, gyms and cinemas were closed earlier this month to slow omicron’s spread. Authorities have also banned flights from eight countries, on top of mandating 21 days in hotel isolation for most incoming travelers.
While the move may seem shocking, it could be wise, said Klaus Osterrieder, dean of the college of veterinary medicine and chair of virology at City University of Hong Kong. “It’s not impossible at all,” Osterrieder said. “In scenarios where you need to keep the virus out of your borders, any introduction, may it be the most unlikely or one that you never thought about, pretty much can thwart your entire operation.”
Business groups have said the stringent approach is jeopardizing the city’s status as a financial hub. Local officials maintain that the moves are necessary to keep infections and deaths to a minimum, as they make it their top priority to open up travel and restore economic ties with mainland China. Animal Risk
While many scientist believe the virus came from a wild animal, either directly from a bat or though an intermediate host like a civet cat or a raccoon dog, domesticated and zoo animals haven’t been implicated in the virus’s spread. The first documented case of a pet with Covid-19 was a 17-year-old pomeranian in Hong Kong, who was diagnosed after its owner contracted the virus in February 2020. Testing showed the dog, Loulou, was carrying low levels of the virus and ultimately produced antibodies to it.