Hong Kong authorities are to cull 2,000 small animals including hamsters after several of the rodents tested positive for coronavirus at a pet store where an infected employee was working.
The city will also stop the sale of hamsters and the import of small mammals, according to officials from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.
The move came after the pet shop employee tested positive for the Delta variant on Monday.
Several hamsters imported from the Netherlands at the same store tested positive as well.
“If you own a hamster, you should keep your hamsters at home, do not take them out,” said department director Leung Siu-fai at a news conference.
“All pet owners should observe good personal hygiene, and after you have been in contact with animals and their food, you should wash your hands.
“Do not kiss your pets.”
Even though authorities acknowledged there is “no evidence” that pets can transmit the coronavirus to humans, as a precautionary measure, customers who had purchased hamsters from the affected store after January 7 will be traced and subject to mandatory quarantine.
They must also hand over their hamsters to authorities to be put down.
Authorities said all pet stores selling hamsters in Hong Kong must cease operations and around 2,000 small mammals, including hamsters and chinchillas, will be culled in a humane manner.
Hong Kong’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said it was “shocked and concerned” by the decision to kill the animals, and urged the government not to “take any drastic action before reviewing its approach”.
Customers who bought hamsters in Hong Kong from December 22 will also be subject to mandatory testing and are urged not to go into the community until their tests have returned negative.
If their hamsters test positive, they will be subject to quarantine.
For now, authorities said they would not rule out transmission between human and animals.
Separately, Hong Kong police arrested two former flight attendants for allegedly leaving their homes when they should have been in isolation for possible coronavirus infections, which were later confirmed.
The two arrived from the US on December 24 and 25. While in medical surveillance, they had “conducted unnecessary activities”, according to a government statement.
While the statement did not name their employer, the arrests came after flagship carrier Cathay Pacific said it had fired two crew members for breaching coronavirus protocols. Both later tested positive for the Omicron variant.