Around 2,000 hamsters are to be culled in Hong Kong after there was a Covid-19 outbreak linked to a pet shop.
Families who bought a pet from the Little Boss shop in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong since 22 December have been told to hand over their animal so it can be killed.
Crowds gathered outside the shop as the hamsters were taken away in boxes, with thousands signing a petition against the decision of the authorities.
Why is Hong Kong culling hamsters?
Hong Kong has consistently maintained a "zero Covid" strategy focusing on eliminating the virus.
On Tuesday (18 January), the authorities announced the decision to cull the animals after an outbreak of the Delta variant linked to a worker in the shop.
Officials tested the hundreds of animals there, finding 11 to be positive. They say it could be a prime example of animal-to-human Covid transmission.
Only hamsters at this particular Little Boss pet shop seem to be affected; other animals such as rabbits and chinchillas have tested negative.
What is being done?
Around 2,000 hamsters in the city, spreading across 34 different shops and animal centres, will be killed as a "preventative measure".
A telephone hotline is being set up and a ban imposed on the import and sale of hamsters and other small mammals, agriculture officials said.
A pet shop employee, a customer, and the customer’s spouse have now tested positive or provisionally positive, health authorities announced.
Can hamsters get Covid?
The virus that causes Covid-19 - Sars-Cov-2 - can be caught by animals including dogs, cats, ferrets and rodents.
However, there is no clear evidence to suggest that pets can easily pass the virus onto humans.
"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," Hong Kong’s agriculture department director Leung Siu-fai told reporters at a news conference.
She said hamster owners in particular "should keep them at home".
She also promised that the 2,000 animals to be culled would be put down "humanely".
What has been the reaction to the culling?
Since the decision, more than 14,000 people have signed a petition calling for the authorities to stop the cull of hamsters.
The petition says: “The Hong Kong government fails to see that they, the very upholders of law, are on the dangerous path to the murders of many lives that are barely any different to ours.
“Just like humans, these pets could be quarantined and isolated rather than killed off mercilessly, yet authorities insisted on trading over 2000 lives for the sake of “public health needs”.”
It adds: "A pet is an owner’s best friend, and due to the government’s orders, thousands of people could unjustifiably lose their dearest companions.”
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