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Death sentence for Hong Kong hamsters after virus outbreak

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Thousands of hamsters and other animals will be euthanised in Hong Kong after a cluster of COVID cases traced to a pet shop.

The order to cull the animals came after an outbreak of Delta variant cases in humans linked to a worker at the Little Boss pet shop.

It prompted tests on hundreds of animals, with 11 hamsters showing up positive.

The discovery led to a pet rodent clampdown on Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, which is following the mainland’s zero-tolerance approach to COVID-19 even as much of the world shifts to living with it.

Authorities in Hong Kong swooped on the pet shop, seizing hamsters to take them away to be put to sleep.

A crowd gathered outside the shop as the animals were removed in boxes.

In addition, families who have bought a hamster from the Little Boss pet shop in Causeway Bay since December 22 have been ordered to hand over their pets for similar treatment.

So far, the only animals at Little Boss that are affected seem to be the hamsters, with other animals such as rabbits and chinchillas testing negative to the virus.

But as a “preventative measure”, 2000 hamsters and other small mammals from 34 pet shops and other animal accommodation across animal across Hong Kong will be killed.

The territory’s Health Secretary Sophia Chan stressed that there was no evidence domestic animals could pass the virus to humans, but said authorities were acting out of caution to also ban imports and sales of pet rodents.

“Pet owners should keep a good hygiene practice, including washing hands after touching the animals, handling their food or other items, and avoid kissing the animals,” Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department director Leung Siu-fai Leung said.

“If citizens are raising hamsters, they should keep them at home. Do not bring them out.”

After three months without local transmission, Hong Kong already has dozens of new virus cases in humans this year, triggering fresh restrictions on flights and social life.

Thousands of people have been sent to a makeshift government quarantine facility. Most of the recent cases are of the highly-contagious new Omicron variety, though the cluster traced to a pet shop worker was Delta.

A hotline for COVID-19 inquiries related to hamsters is also being set up.

-with AAP

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