Hamster cull to protect public health

January 18, 2022

(To watch the full press briefing with sign language interpretation, click here.)


The Agriculture, Fisheries & Conservation Department today announced a pet hamster cull after a cluster of COVID-19 cases was discovered at a pet shop in Causeway Bay.


As some of the hamsters being sold in the shop tested preliminary positive for the virus, the department has ordered all pet shops selling hamsters across Hong Kong to close temporarily.


Pet owners who have recently purchased hamsters are urged to hand over their animals to the department.


Agriculture, Fisheries & Conservation Department Assistant Director (Inspection & Quarantine) Dr Thomas Sit explained at a press briefing that the hamster cull is necessary to prevent an outbreak.


“You asked about why we have not confirmed that the COVID-19 virus is actually from the hamsters and transmitted to humans and yet we made a decision to cull all the hamsters. But you need to realise and understand that the hamsters are already infected - whether they are human-infected hamsters or not, now they are infected. They are excreting the virus and with the virus they can infect other animals and they can infect other hamsters and also human beings.


“We do not want to cull all the animals, but we have to protect public health and animal health and we have no choice, we have to make a firm decision.”


Health officials noted that globally there has been no evidence pets can pass the virus to humans, but as a prudent measure, preventive measures against all possible routes of transmission had to be taken. 


“We already have evidence and the literature to prove hamsters have the receptors of these COVID-19 viruses similar to humans. So hamsters are usually used as a model to study this virus. If the virus infects the hamsters, it has been proven in the laboratory, they can infect each other. That is why we have to make a quick and prompt decision to stop the outbreak,” Dr Sit added.

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