Science | January 21, 2022 12:48 pm

COVID Concerns Prompt Planned Hamster Cull in Hong Kong

Another worrying milestone for the pandemic

The pandemic isn't just worrisome for humans.
Frenjamin Benklin/Unsplash

There are a host of reasons to be concerned by COVID-19 and its numerous variants — and, unfortunately, its transmission rates and ability to decimate the health of those infected are only two on a long list. There’s also the pandemic’s ability to spread from humans to animals, where it’s possible that it could mutate further or spread back to humans. Or, you know, both.

It’s an alarming property of an alarming disease, and it helps put a recent action by the government of Hong Kong in context. As Smithsonian Magazine reported, one store employee and 11 hamsters tested positive for COVID-19 at the city’s Little Boss pet store. The government’s response was swift, and resulted in the planned culling of approximately 2,000 small animals.

As an article in the South China Morning Post recounts, two other people tied to the pet store have also tested positive for COVID-19. The government ordered the temporary closure of the 34 shops in Hong Kong licensed to sell hamsters, and requested that 150 people who had visited the specific pet shop in question quarantine immediately.

The government’s cull order applies to hamsters purchased on or after December 22. It has also asked pet owners with hamsters purchased on or after that date to turn them in, though this is not mandatory. Unsurprisingly, there is an online petition seeking to reverse this decision.

Thomas Sit of Hong Kong’s department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation addressed the policy in comments made to the media. “We don’t want to cull all the animals, but we have to protect public health and animal health,” said Sit.

Since the pandemic began, Hong Kong has taken some of the most thorough measures possible to prevent it from spreading. In this context, the severity of the response to this situation with hamsters makes more sense — but it’s still more than a little unsettling to read about.