A hamster surrendered to Hong Kong authorities by its owners has tested positive for Covid-19 and more than 2,200 hamsters have been culled, as the city grapples to contain an outbreak of the virus.
On Tuesday officials ordered the killing of hamsters from dozens of pet shops after tracing a Covid-19 outbreak to a worker and asked people to surrender any of the animals bought on or after 22 December.
While a handful of hamsters had already tested positive for the virus, this case is the first involving a hamster in the care of a pet owner that has tested positive.
Despite a public outcry against the crackdown, authorities urged people to continue to hand over their pets given the growing health risks.
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“[The government] strongly advises members of the public again to surrender … as soon as possible their hamsters purchased in local pet shops on or after 22 December 2021 for humane dispatch,” the government said.
Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, earlier said she understood that pet owners were “unhappy” with the killings, but said the biggest priority was controlling the outbreak. The government described the outcry as “irrational”.
Thousands of people have offered to adopt unwanted hamsters. Some scientists and veterinary authorities have said there is no evidence that animals play a large role in human coronavirus contagion.
Meanwhile, officials have said Covid-19 infections could be growing exponentially in the congested residential area of Kwai Chung on the Kowloon peninsula as a second building in the district with 2,000 residents was locked down on Saturday for five days.
More than 35,000 residents in more than a dozen buildings in the area were ordered to take Covid-19 tests, and Lam visited the area on Sunday. She urged people to avoid gatherings before next week’s lunar new year celebrations, to try to contain the Omicron variant.
The situation is testing Hong Kong’s “zero Covid” strategy focused on eliminating the disease, with schools and gyms already shut, restaurants closing at 6 pm and many major travel hubs severely disrupted.
Some companies have begun to enact contingency measures. UBS Group said in a note to its Hong Kong staff that it had “decided to move to work-from-home operations for all except a minimum number of staff who have essential tasks to be completed in the office” given the outbreak. A UBS spokesperson declined to comment on the memo.
On Friday officials shut down the first Kwai Chung building after more than 20 cases were linked to it, with food being delivered from outside three times a day and mass testing now underway.