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Fury over Hong Kong’s mass cull of hamsters and small pets

Hamsters sold at the Little Boss pet shop in Hong Kong tested positive for the Delta variant of Covid-19

Hong Kong’s government faced outrage Wednesday over its decision to cull thousands of small animals after hamsters in a pet store tested positive for Covid-19.

Like China, Hong Kong maintains a “zero-Covid” policy, stamping out the merest trace of the virus with contact tracing, mass testing, strict quarantines and prolonged social-distancing rules.

The move came after hamsters sold at the Little Boss pet shop tested positive for the Delta variant — now rare in Hong Kong.

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Authorities “strongly encouraged” anyone who bought a small mammal after December 22 — right before Christmas — to give up their pet for culling.

“I have no choice — the government made it sound so serious,” Hau told AFP, showing videos of his son wailing in front of Pudding’s pink cage.

Authorities said Tuesday the Covid-positive creatures were believed to be imported from the Netherlands, with Hong Kong’s health secretary defending the move as part of “precautionary measures against any vector of transmission” — despite a dearth of evidence showing animal-to-human transmission.

The import of small mammals has also been halted.

Animal lovers across Hong Kong reacted with alarm: a Change.org petition garnered more than 23,000 signatures in less than a day, and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) denounced the decision.

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One owner — who bought her pet on January 1 — was defiant, pushing back on the government’s cull.

She recalled a recent birthday party attended by officials that resulted in multiple Covid infections and left Hong Kong’s leadership redfaced.

“If all people who attended the birthday party are culled then I will hand my hamster to the government.”

The city’s largest opposition party also waded into the controversy, saying the “indiscriminate killing” policy will only cause “public resentment”.

– ‘An unpopular decision’ –

Top microbiologist and government advisor Yuen Kwok-yung had praised the measure Tuesday as “decisive” and “prudent”.

Yuen said the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department did not have enough staff to quarantine hamsters and test them daily, “so they had no choice but to make such an unpopular decision”.

“That risk remains low but it is something that we are constantly looking at,” said the WHO’s Maria Van Kerkhove.

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