The Hong Kong Government has ordered the cull of 2000 pet hamsters and other small mammals after several hamsters tested positive to coronavirus.

Families who purchased a hamster from Little Boss pet shop are being advised to turn them over to authorities for euthanasia, and all pet shops selling hamsters in Hong Kong must suspend business while COVID-19 tests on the animals take place.

An Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) spokesperson said that it received a report by the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) on 17 January that a pet shop worker was confirmed to be infected with COVID-19.

AFCD staff were then sent to the pet shop where she worked and collected samples from 78 hamsters, chinchillas, and rabbits for COVID-19 tests.

Eleven of the samples collected from hamsters tested positive for COVID-19, while the test results of other animals were negative.

“As positive test results for the COVID-19 virus were found in a number of samples collected from hamsters, there is evidence that this batch of hamsters had been contaminated with the COVID-19 virus.

“Overseas studies show that once hamsters have been infected with COVID-19 in a laboratory environment, the virus can effectively multiply and be transmitted within the herd of hamsters, thus significantly increasing the risk of spreading the virus as well as transmitting the virus to humans and other animals.”

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) position is that the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is low, but that people should still practice safe hygiene around pets.