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Interventions to hamster case deplored

The Agriculture, Fisheries & Conservation Department today condemned some people who stopped others from surrendering hamsters to its New Territories South Animal Management Centre and took over some of the hamsters.   It stressed that such people's action obstructed the department from carrying out its work and will pose health risks to themselves and the public, adding that the case had been reported to Police.   The department earlier strongly advised people to hand over their hamsters purchased in local pet shops on or after December 22 last year for humane dispatch.   It explained that the appeal was made because a pet shop worker was confirmed infected with COVID-19 and samples taken from hamsters in the pet shop concerned also tested positive for the virus, reflecting that relevant hamsters were infected.   As the onset of symptoms may not be triggered immediately after the hamsters have been infected, negative test results at the moment do not necessarily mean that the hamsters have not acquired the infection.   Touching or keeping these hamsters can cause infection and the risk of spreading the virus, the department emphasised.   According to the department's records, only two batches of hamsters were recently imported into Hong Kong, which were on December 22 and January 7.   After consulting experts, the department opined that the two consignments of hamsters have a higher risk of carrying the COVID-19 virus, while other hamsters imported into Hong Kong beforehand are relatively less risky and can be kept.   As at today, the centre has received 68 hamsters.   The department urged people to immediately refrain from stopping others from handing over hamsters to the centre and return those taken away, otherwise it will stringently follow up on the matter.   Meanwhile, the department announced that starting tomorrow, the centre will be used as another quarantine facility for animals related to COVID-19 cases.   It will cease opening to the public and will not receive any animals except hamsters purchased in local pet shops on or after December 22 and surrendered to the department. Such arrangement will be valid until further notice.   All animals other than those placed under quarantine and veterinary monitoring and hamsters in the centre will be transferred to other animal management centres.   For the animal keeping facility at the Hong Kong Port of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, it will only be used for quarantine and veterinary monitoring for animals that have tested positive for COVID-19.