Pet stores in Hong Kong have been allowed to reopen following a widespread cull of hamsters and other animals linked to the Covid pandemic.
At the same time, a paper has appeared in the scientific journal The Lancet suggesting that the incident showed that the virus can be passed from hamsters to humans.
Several hamsters and a member of staff at the Little Boss pet shop in Causeway Bay tested positive for Covid-19 last month, leading to a cull of an estimated 2,000 hamsters at 34 local pet shops and at a main storage facility, along with a number of rabbits and chinchillas.
The outbreak has been blamed on Syrian hamsters imported from Holland. The scientific paper maintains that the Covid infection in the affected hamsters and the pet store worker were both of the Delta variant which was not circulating in the locality at the time, suggesting that the virus had indeed been transmitted from hamster to human.
The paper is in the “preprint” stage at The Lancet, meaning it has not yet been reviewed by a scientific peer group.
The authorities in Hong Kong report that the virus was found in a number of Syrian hamsters but none of the dwarf hamsters, rabbits, Guinea pigs, chinchillas or mice that were tested at the same time.
Pet shops in the territory have been disinfected and checked for the presence of the virus before being allowed to reopen. Five stores, including the Little Boss pet shop, remained closed as they had not yet been given the all-clear by the government. Stores forced to close temporarily will be offered compensation of up to HK$ 30,000 (£2,800).