HONG KONG, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Hong Kong authorities said on
Sunday one hamster surrendered to authorities by pet owners had
tested positive for COVID-19 and that over 2,200 hamsters had
been culled as the city struggled to contain an outbreak.
On Tuesday, officials ordered the killing of hamsters from
dozens of pet shops after tracing a coronavirus outbreak to a
worker at a shop and asked people to surrender any bought on or
after Dec. 22.
While a handful of hamsters had already tested positive for
the virus, this latest case is the first involving a hamster in
the care of a pet-owner that had tested positive.
Despite a public outcry against the hamster crackdown,
authorities urged pet-owners to continue to hand over their tiny
furry pets given burgeoning health risks.
"(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 December 22, 2021 for
humane dispatch," the government said in a statement.
As at Jan. 22, a total of 2,512 animals, including 2,229
hamsters, had been "humanely dispatched" according to a
Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam earlier told reporters that
she understood "pet owners are unhappy" with the killings, but
said the biggest priority was to control 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 major role in human contagion
with the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, officials have warned that 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 over a dozen buildings in the
area had to undergo compulsory COVID-19 tests, with Lam and
other senior officials visiting the area on Sunday.
Sophia Chan, Hong Kong's Health Secretary, told reporters on
Sunday that the city's strategy of containment would continue.
Some 140 confirmed cases were reported on Sunday, the
highest daily number in the financial hub since July 25, 2020.
Lam urged people to avoid gatherings ahead of next week's
Lunar New Year holidays to try to contain the highly infectious
The situation is testing Hong Kong's "zero COVID-19"
strategy focused on eliminating the disease, with schools and
gyms already shut, restaurants closing at 6 p.m. (1000 GMT) and
air travel with many major hubs severed or severely disrupted.
Some companies have begun to enact contingency measures.
UBS Group AG said in a note to its Hong Kong staff
reviewed by Reuters 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 Omicorn outbreak.
A UBS spokesman declined to comment on the memo.
(Additional reporting by Twinnie Siu, Sumeet Chatterjee and
Jessie Pang; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Emelia