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HK orders pet cull amid fears hamsters have passed on Covid-19 to humans

18 January 2022

By Daisy CL Mandap 

11 hamsters sold in a Causeway Bay pet shop tested positive for Covid-19

Hong Kong has ordered the cull of more than 2,000 small animals after finding a batch of hamsters that tested positive for Covid-19 with the Delta variant, the same type of strain that was found in a 23-year-old female sales staff at a pet shop in Causeway Bay.

Health officials also revealed at a press conference this afternoon that a 67-year-old woman who had visited the shop briefly to buy a pet from the sales staff has also tested positive for the Delta variant. Her husband who has never been to the shop, has tested preliminary positive.

Speaking at the press conference, Health Secretary Prof. Sophia Chan said that officials from the Agriculture and Fisheries Conservation Department had tested animals in the Causeway Bay shop, and 11 were found infected with the coronavirus, all of them hamsters.


A team of experts also took environmental samples from the Tai Po warehouse of the pet chain which has 15 branches all over Hong Kong, and a number of them tested positive for Covid-19. The results of the tests on the animals there are still pending.

“Although internationally there is no evidence yet that pets can pass on the virus to humans, we must take precautionary measures to minimize the risks,” Chan said.

As a result of these findings, AFCD Secretary Leung Siu-Fai announced that the following measures will be taken:


1)     All animals at the Causeway Bay shop and the Tai Po warehouse will be put down.

2)     All pet shops must stop selling hamsters and all those that were flown to Hong Kong from the Netherlands on Dec 22 and Jan 7 and sold to the public will be seized and similarly killed.

3)     All small animals, including chinchilla, rabbits and guinea pigs that are on sale will be tested, and until they test negative, no pet shops will be allowed to sell them.

4)     The AFCD will stop the importation of small animals into Hong Kong and ask exporting countries to conduct tests on the pets to ensure there is no unseen transmission going on among them.

Officials say putting down the animals is necessary to stop possible spread to humans

Dr Edwin Hui, controller of the Centre for Health Protection, said they were considering two possible sources of transmission within the pet shop. One was that the sales staff had passed on the virus to the customer, even though their interaction was brief and they both wore masks.

“But we are not ruling out the possibility that there was a direct transmission from animals to humans,” Hui said.

CHP’s infectious disease chief Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan said a total of 143 transactions were made in the pet shop chain from Dec 22 and 121 of the customers have already been traced. The rest did not provide contact telephone numbers.


Hui said that because there have been at least two cases of human infections in the shop, all those who bought animals there during the relevant dates will be contacted so they could surrender their pets for testing before being put down. 

Regardless of the result, the pet owners will be sent to quarantine. 

All those who had been to the pet shop from Jan 7-15 are also being contacted. At least one man has reported on social media that he would be sent to quarantine tonight when he was at the shop for less than an hour.

Meanwhile, all shops selling hamsters have been told to close, and surrender the animals to the authorities to be put down.


Asked if it was humane to put down 2,000 small animals when only a small number were found to carry the virus, the officials pointed out that this was the first time that Covid-19 was found among hamsters in a natural setting. That indicates they could easily pass it on among themselves and to other animals, even humans.

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