Local pet stores selling hamsters in Hong Kong are now allowed to resume business, the government said on Saturday, following an order to close and the culling of thousands of small animals over concerns they could be carrying the coronavirus.
“The pet shops must be thoroughly disinfected and cleaned, and environmental swabs taken from the shops must pass the virus test before they can resume business,” the Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department (AFCD) said in a statement.
On Jan. 18, the Hong Kong government ordered 2,000 hamsters, chinchillas, rabbits, and other small animals to be “humanely” put down after a health check on the rodents found 11 carrying the Delta variant of the coronavirus. All the hamsters were imported from the Netherlands.
Pet owners who bought hamsters from any store in Hong Kong since Dec. 22, 2021, were ordered to hand over their animals for culling, while those who visited the pet store after Jan. 7 were told to quarantine.
According to the AFCD, all 1,134 samples taken from animals other than hamsters have come out negative. It also collected 1,124 environmental swabs from all the concerned pet shops.
There are a few pet retailers that are still being reviewed by the Health Ministry and that will stay closed for the time being, the AFCD said. Among these establishments is the Little Boss pet shop, where a 23-year-old employee tested positive for the coronavirus.
Authorities will step up surveillance of pet shops, and all hamster imports remain banned in Hong Kong to ensure public health, it added.
The AFCD said on Friday that a one-off payment would be disbursed to all local pet shops selling hamsters as compensation. Each eligible pet shop is entitled to a payment of between HK$10,000 ($1,282) and HK$30,000 ($3,800) based on the shop’s floor area.
Hong Kong’s pet cull follows heightened virus containment measures in Beijing, where authorities suggested that mail from Canada might have been the culprit for the city’s first Omicron case.
The city’s health officials noted that the patient with Omicron, a 26-year-old woman who hasn’t traveled outside Beijing recently, handled a parcel sent from Canada via the United States and Hong Kong before developing a sore throat two days later.
The Omicron variant was detected on both the outside of the package and in its contents, as well as on other mail samples delivered from the same origin, the officials said.
Health experts have generally assessed the risk of the virus transmitting through contaminated surfaces to be extremely low. The World Health Organization has said that coronaviruses in general “need a live animal or human host to multiply and survive and cannot multiply on the surface of food packages.”
Eva Fu contributed to this report.