Dozens of pet stores that sold hamsters in Hong Kong may resume business from Sunday, the local government said, after being shut down last week and thousands culled over coronavirus fears.
Authorities enraged pet lovers with an order to cull more than 2,200 hamsters after tracing an outbreak to a worker in a shop where 11 hamsters tested positive.
Imported hamsters from the Netherlands into the Chinese territory had been cited as the source. All hamster imports remain banned.
The city’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said in a statement late on Saturday that it collected 1,134 samples from animals other than hamsters including rabbits and chinchillas, which were all negative.
Five stores, including the Little Boss pet shop, where the outbreak was first reported, remained closed as they had not yet “passed the virus test”, the government said.
“All the other concerned pet shops on the other hand have been thoroughly disinfected and cleaned and the environmental swabs collected from these shops have all passed the Covid-19 virus test,” a statement said.
Compensation for Losses
The government said on Friday it would compensate pet shops trading in hamsters, offering a one-off payment of up to HK$30,000 ($3,850).
People who had in recent weeks bought hamsters – popular apartment pets in the congested city – were ordered to surrender them for testing and what the government described as “humane dispatch”.
Thousands of people offered to adopt unwanted hamsters amid a public outcry against the government and its pandemic advisers, which authorities called irrational.
A study published in The Lancet medical journal, which has not yet been peer reviewed, said Hong Kong researchers have found evidence that pet hamsters can spread Covid-19 and linked the animals to human infections in the city.
Separately, a University of Hong Kong research team discovered that orally administered colloidal bismuth subcitrate together with N-acetyl cysteine could be a broad-spectrum anti-coronavirus cocktail therapy.
Oral administration of the cocktail suppresses the replication cycle of the virus, reduces viral loads in the lung and ameliorates virus-induced pneumonia in a hamster infection model.
- Reuters, with additional editing by George Russell