Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Hong Kong Detects COVID In Pet Store Hamsters - Suspends Sales & Orders Cull



Fifteen months ago, before the first major COVID variant (Alpha) appeared in the UK, Danish authorities raised the alarm over the discovery of 5 mutated strains of COVID-19 that had arisen in mink and had transmitted to humans (see Denmark Orders Culling Of All Mink Following Discovery Of Mutated Coronavirus).

While COVID is primarily a disease in humans, we know that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can also infect a number of other mammalian species, including bats, mink, ferrets, hamsters, some rodents, dogs, cats, and deer (see COVID Reservoir Roundup: Cambodian Bats, Farmed Mink In Utah & North American Deer). 

The concern is that SARS-CoV-2 could establish itself in a non-human reservoir - much as MERS-CoV has in camels - and provide the virus with additional evolutionary pathways which could potentially reinvigorate or reinvent the pandemic in unpredictable ways in the future (see CCDC Weekly Perspectives: COVID-19 Expands Its Territories from Humans to Animals).

Which brings us to a report from Hong Kong this morning of the discovery of a pet shop employee who tested positive for COVID, and subsequent detection of COVID-19 in some of the hamsters in the store.  Additional tests, performed at a warehouse where these hamsters were kept, have led to wider measures being taken.

Anyone who has purchased a hamster in Hong Kong since the 22nd of December is asked to turn them over to the department for `humane treatment'.  Sales of hamsters have been halted across the city, and importation of small animals has been halted pending a review of quarantine rules. 


Hamsters test positive for coronavirus, all sales in Hong Kong suspended

January 18, 2022

In view of the fact that hamsters in the Causeway Bay pet store have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department announced a series of preventive measures, including further virus testing for all animals in the pet store and its warehouses, and a temporary suspension of pets available for sale of hamsters. Stores are open, and the import of small mammals is suspended.

The Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation, Leung Shiu-fai, said at a briefing on the epidemic today that the department was informed by the Centre for Health Protection yesterday that the patient who tested positive for the novel coronavirus was a staff member of Little Boss, a pet shop in Causeway Bay. The department and the staff of the protection center immediately followed up with the store and took a total of 125 samples from 78 hamsters, chinchillas and rabbits in the store. The results showed that 11 samples were initially positive for the new coronavirus, all from hamsters and other animal samples. Temporarily negative.

He pointed out that the pet shop has a warehouse in Tai Po to store small animals. The department and the protection center personnel also went to the warehouse yesterday to collect a total of 511 samples, some of which were from chinchillas, guinea pigs, hamsters and rabbits. The tests are still in progress. But some environmental samples tested positive for the virus.

To reduce the risk of virus transmission, AFCD has taken a series of preventive measures. First, out of consideration for public safety and health risks, the department will conduct further virus tests on all the animals in the pet shop and its Tai Po warehouse before humane treatment.

In addition, all pet shops in Hong Kong that can sell hamsters must temporarily close their business and conduct thorough disinfection and cleaning. As for other small animals in the store, such as chinchillas, guinea pigs and rabbits, they will also be tested. The test results are negative before the pet store is allowed to resume business.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department will immediately stop the import of all small mammals, including hamsters, and will review the quarantine requirements for such animals imported into Hong Kong, including whether the exporting country is required to conduct a new crown virus test for the relevant animals before export, and whether the animals need to be tested after they arrive in Hong Kong. Test again.

Liang Zhaohui said that according to the department's records, two batches of hamsters were imported recently, on the 22nd of last month and the 7th of this month. After consulting experts, the Department believes that the two batches are of high risk. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that citizens who buy hamsters in pet stores on or after the 22nd of last month should hand them over to the Department for humane treatment.

In order to reduce public health risks and consider animal welfare, the AFCD calls on the public not to leave pets on the street under any circumstances. The department has set up a hotline 2691 2269 for the public to inquire about the arrangement of receiving hamsters. The public can also submit the hamsters they keep to the New Territories South Animal Management Centre of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.