Hong Kong authorities said Tuesday that they will kill about 2,000 small animals, including hamsters, after several tested positive for the coronavirus at a pet store where an employee was also infected.
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 pet shop employee tested positive for the delta variant on Monday, and several hamsters imported from the Netherlands at the store tested positive as well.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, animals do not appear to play a significant role in spreading the coronavirus. But Hong Kong authorities said they are not ruling out transmission between animals and humans.
“We cannot exclude the possibility that the shopkeeper was in fact actually infected from the hamsters,” said Edwin Tsui, a controller at the Centre for Health Protection.
While this coronavirus most likely jumped from animals to humans in the first place, the outbreak became a pandemic because the virus spreads so easily between people. Minks are the only known animals to have caught the virus from people and spread it back, according to Dr. Scott Weese at Ontario Veterinary College.
Leung Siu-fai, director of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, said during a news conference that owners should keep hamsters at home, and not take them out. “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,” he said.
“Do not kiss your pets,” he added.
Customers who purchased hamsters from the store after Jan. 7 will be traced and be subject to mandatory quarantine and must hand over their hamsters to authorities to be put down, officials said.