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Hong Kong to euthanize 2,000 small animals after hamsters test positive for COVID-19

Hong Kong to euthanize 2,000 small animals after hamsters test positive for COVID-19
While most experts say it's unlikely that animals play a role in spreading the virus, Hong Kong officials said its move is a precautionary measure. File Photo by Hintau Aliaksei/Shutterstock/UPI

Jan. 18 (UPI) -- Authorities in Hong Kong said Tuesday that they will euthanize hundreds of small animals and ban imports after a few hamsters and an employee at a pet shop tested positive for COVID-19.

Officials said the employee, a 23-year-old woman, tested positive on Monday and several hamsters from the Netherlands also returned positive tests.

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The euthanization order applies to about 2,000 small animals and temporarily bars imports of similar animals into Hong Kong.

Most experts, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have said that it's unlikely that animals play a significant role in spreading COVID-19. Hong Kong, however, said that the move is a precautionary measure to counter possible transmission from animals to humans.

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Officials also said that all owners who bought hamsters at the store after Dec. 22 must turn them over to be euthanized.

To date, Hong Kong has reported about 13,000 COVID-19 cases and 200 related deaths. File Photo by Jerome Favre/EPA-EFE

Hong Kong's agriculture department said two shipments of hamsters imported on Dec. 22 and Jan. 7 were suspected to be carrying the coronavirus.

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Authorities said a 67-year-old woman who visited the pet store earlier this month also tested positive.

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Officials said that 11 hamsters were found to be carrying traces of the coronavirus after they tested nearly 200 hamsters, rabbits and chinchillas.

Hong Kong officials also said that owners of small pets like hamsters should keep them inside and not let them roam freely. They also advised owners to keep the animals clean and refrain from kissing them.

To date, Hong Kong has reported about 13,000 COVID-19 cases and 200 related deaths.

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