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Hong Kong orders culling of 2,000 hamsters after COVID-19 hits pets

Hong Kong ordered a cull of 2,000 hamsters on Tuesday and warned pet owners not to kiss animals after a new cluster of COVID-19 cases was traced to a pet shop.

The outbreak of Delta variant cases in humans linked to the shop worker prompted tests on hundreds of animals, with 11 hamsters showing up positive.

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That has brought a pet rodent clampdown on Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, which is following the mainland’s zero-tolerance approach to COVID-19 even as much of the world shifts to living with it.

The territory’s Health Secretary Sophia Chan stressed at a news conference that there was no evidence domestic animals can pass the disease to humans, but authorities were anyway acting out of caution to ban imports and sales of pet rodents.

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“Pet owners should keep a good hygiene practice, including washing hands after touching the animals, handling their food or other items, and avoid kissing the animals,” Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department director Leung Siu-fai Leung also told reporters.

“If citizens are raising hamsters, they should keep them at home. Do not bring them out.”

Hamster hotline

Hundreds of samples were collected from animals also including rabbits and chinchillas, but only the hamsters have tested positive so far.

“To be careful, we will take preventive measures against any transmission possibilities that we cannot rule out,” said Chan.

After three months without local transmission, Hong Kong has dozens of new cases in humans this year, triggering fresh restrictions on flights and social life.

Thousands of people have been sent to a makeshift government quarantine facility. Most of the new cases are of the highly-contagious new Omicron variety, though the cluster traced to a pet shop worker was Delta.

Leung said about 2,000 hamsters in 34 pet shops and storage facilities would be put down “humanely”. Anyone who purchased a hamster after Dec. 22, 2021 should hand them over to authorities for culling and not leave them on the streets, he added.

A hotline for COVID-19 enquiries related to hamsters is also being set up.

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North Korea’s fever cases under 200,000 for second day amid silence on aid offer

North Korea's daily fever cases stayed below 200,000 for a second day in a row, state media said on Monday, as Pyongyang remained silent on South Korean and US offers to help fight its first confirmed COVID-19 outbreak.

The COVID wave, declared on May 12, has fuelled concerns over a lack of vaccines, inadequate medical infrastructure and a potential food crisis in the country of 25 million.

US President Joe Biden said on Saturday that Washington had offered COVID-19 vaccines to China and North Korea, but “got no response.”

North Korea reported 167,650 new patients suffering from fever on Monday and one more death. More than 2.33 million of the 2.81 million cumulative cases reported since late April had recovered as of Sunday evening, the North's state news agency KCNA said. The official death toll stands at 68.

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While staying silent on the offer for help, North Korea has boasted of a “favorable turn” in the country's virus situation.

“The crisis and responsibility awareness is further enhanced in every region, sector, workplace and post across the country to maintain the favorable turn in the epidemic prevention work and all inroads of the epidemic are checked through the strict execution of regional and unit lockdown and blockade measures,” the KCNA said.

Such COVID-19 restrictions may be playing a role in North Korea's lack of response, a senior US administration official said Sunday.

Apparently deprived of testing supplies, North Korea has not confirmed the total number of people testing positive for the coronavirus. Instead, health authorities report the number with fever symptoms, making it difficult to assess the scale of the COVID wave, experts have said.

Authorities have distributed food and medicine across the country, with military medics deployed to help distribute drugs and conduct exams.

KCNA said pharmaceutical factories “are speeding up the production,” but did not elaborate which medicines were being produced.

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Beijing city reports 63 new local COVID-19 cases over 24 hours

Beijing reported 63 new domestically transmitted COVID-19 infections during the 24 hours to 3 p.m. (0700 GMT) on Saturday, a disease control official at the Chinese capital said.

Of the infections, 56 were found in controlled areas and seven during community screening tests, Liu Xiaofeng, deputy director at Beijing Center for Disease Prevention and Control, told a news briefing.

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The city has recorded 1,399 COVID infections since April 22, Liu said.

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Biden says US has offered N.Korea COVID-19 vaccines but ‘got no response’

US President Joe Biden said Saturday that America had offered North Korea COVID-19 vaccines but “got no response” despite a spiraling epidemic in the isolated country.

“We've offered vaccines, not only to North Korea but to China as well and we're prepared to do that immediately," he said at a press conference in Seoul.

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

“We've got no response,” he added.

For all the latest headlines follow our Google News channel online or via the app.

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