China Begins Mass Slaughter of Hamsters After Pet Store Worker Tests Positive for COVID


Not even hamsters are safe from the Chinese government’s “zero-COVID” strategy.

More than 2,200 of the furry rodents — popular around the world as pets — have been culled in Hong Kong because of an outbreak of delta cases of COVID-19 linked to a pet shop worker that prompted officials to test hamsters, finding some had traces of the virus, The Guardian reported Sunday.

Government officials fear COVID infections could be growing exponentially in the region in question, Kwai Chung, a highly populated residential area north of Hong Kong’s Kowloon Peninsula.

Despite outrage from pet owners and animal welfare groups, authorities urged people to hand over their pets for testing as part of China’s rigid approach to the virus, which was first detected in Wuhan, China, in 2019 before spreading throughout the rest of the world.

“[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 22 December 2021 for humane dispatch,” the government said, according to the Guardian.

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The outlet reported that local news was “awash with footage and images of crying children saying goodbye to their hamsters.”

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s leader, cited the greater good of containing the virus.

Lam said Saturday she understood that pet owners were “unhappy” with the killing of the hamsters but the biggest priority was controlling the outbreak, the Independent reported.

Hong Kong officials characterized the outcry against putting down COVID-infected hamsters as “irrational,” according to the Guardian.

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The Chinese government’s unyielding approach to combatting the virus likely explains the mass put-down of hamsters, according to Nikolaus Osterrieder, dean of the college of veterinary medicine and life sciences at the City University of Hong Kong.

“You cannot afford anything, so I don’t think there was any choice but to try to contain this outbreak in hamsters,” Osterrieder told NBC News.

The network also reported that Dr.Yuen Kwok-yung, head of the Department of Microbiology at the University of Hong Kong and a government adviser, told a local radio program that it was a “difficult decision” to cull the hamsters and that officials understand that “lots of people have affection for their pets.”

In the end, however, he was unmoved, blaming the unvaccinated for forcing the government’s hand.

“But at the same time, we need to think, this decision would have been completely unnecessary if everyone in Hong Kong got vaccinated,” he said.

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An online petition opposing the hamster cull had received more than 38,500 signatures as of Monday morning.

The hamster massacre is but the latest headache for a country already struggling to burnish its COVID-tarnished image right before it hosts the Winter Olympics in Beijing beginning on Feb. 4.

In addition to ongoing concerns about human rights abuses, especially regarding the Uyghur population, China’s communist government has been criticized for its mass lockdown of citizens in fighting the pandemic, for not allowing any spectators from overseas to attend the quadrennial international sporting event for the same reason, and for relying on fake snow that threatens to exacerbate regional water shortages.

A member of the Beijing Organizing Committee told reporters on Jan. 18 that Olympic athletes’ remarks and behavior “will be protected” if they are “in line with the Olympic spirit.” Athletes may be held accountable for saying or doing anything “against Chinese laws and regulations,” reported The Washington Post.

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