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Hong Kong to kill 2,000 animals after pet store hamsters contract COVID-19

HONG KONG (AP) — Authorities in Hong Kong said Tuesday they would kill some 2,000 small animals, including hamsters, after several of the rodents tested positive for the virus at a pet store where an infected employee worked.

The city will also stop the sale of hamsters and the import of small mammals, according to Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation officials. The move came after the pet store employee tested positive for the delta variant on Monday. Several hamsters imported from the Netherlands in the same store also tested positive.

“If you own a hamster, you should keep your hamsters at home, don’t take them out,” department director Leung Siu-fai told a news conference.

“All pet owners should observe good personal hygiene, and after contact with animals and their food, you should wash your hands.”

“Don’t kiss your pets,” he added.

Although authorities have acknowledged that there is “no evidence” that pets can transmit the coronavirus to humans, as a precaution, customers who purchased hamsters from the affected store after January 7 will be found and subject to mandatory quarantine.

They must also hand over their hamsters to the authorities to be put down.

Authorities said all pet shops selling hamsters in Hong Kong were to cease operations and around 2,000 small mammals, including hamsters and chinchillas, would be humanely killed.

Customers who purchased hamsters in Hong Kong from December 22 will also be subject to mandatory testing and are asked not to enter the community until their tests come back negative. If their hamsters test positive, they will be quarantined.

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For now, authorities have said they will not rule out transmission between humans and animals.

Separately, Hong Kong police arrested two former flight attendants for allegedly leaving their homes when they should have been in isolation for possible coronavirus infections, which were later confirmed.

The two men arrived from the United States on December 24 and 25. While under medical supervision, they had “carried out unnecessary activities”, according to a government statement issued on Monday evening.

Although the statement did not name their employer, the arrests came after flagship carrier Cathay Pacific said it fired two crew members for violating coronavirus protocols. Both later tested positive for the omicron variant.

Cathay previously said the actions of the crew who broke coronavirus protocols were “hugely disappointing” and apologized for the disruption. The company had to reduce its flights – passengers and cargo – in January amid virus measures.

The duo have been released on bail and will be heard in court on February 9. If found guilty of violating anti-epidemic regulations, they could face up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to 5,000 Hong Kong dollars ($642).

Hong Kong is grappling with a local omicron outbreak attributed to several Cathay Pacific crew members who dined in bars and restaurants around the city before testing positive for the omicron variant.

Previously in Hong Kong, some air and sea crew members could self-isolate at home under certain quarantine exemptions. Regulations tightened on Dec. 31 require crew members to self-isolate at a designated quarantine hotel for about a week to protect public health.