An outbreak of Delta cases in humans linked to the pet shop worker have prompted tests on hundreds of animals in the Chinese-ruled territory, with 11 hamsters testing positive.

About 1,000 animals from Little Boss and its warehouse will be seized and put down, while staff and customers have been sent for testing.
About 1,000 animals from Little Boss and its warehouse will be seized and put down, while staff and customers have been sent for testing. (AP)

Hong Kong has ordered a cull of around 2,000 hamsters and warned pet owners not to kiss animals after a cluster of Covid-19 cases was traced to a pet shop.

Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department director Leung Siu-fai Leung said on Tuesday that hamsters in 34 pet shops and storage facilities would be put down "humanely." 

Customers who bought hamsters in Hong Kong from December 22 will be subject to mandatory testing and are urged not contact others until their tests have returned negative. 

If their hamsters test positive, they will be subject to quarantine.

A hotline for enquiries about hamsters was being set up, while some 150 of the pet shop's customers were being sent into quarantine, officials said.

The outbreak of Delta variant cases in humans linked to the shop worker prompted tests on hundreds of animals in the Chinese-ruled territory, with 11 hamsters testing positive.

READ MORE: WHO: Covid-19 'very likely' first jumped into humans from animals

Pet shops shut down

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, animals do not appear to play a significant role in spreading the coronavirus.

But Hong Kong authorities said they are not ruling out transmission between animals and humans.

“We cannot exclude the possibility that the shopkeeper was in fact actually infected from the hamsters,” said Edwin Tsui, a controller at the Centre for Health Protection.

Various pet shops across Hong Kong were shuttered, including the store at the heart of the cluster in the city's bustling Causeway Bay district. 

Little Boss, the operating company, announced the closure of some other branches too for disinfection.

Hong Kong's hamsters are not the only animals infected in the two-year pandemic. 

There have been cases in dogs and cats too, though scientists say there is no evidence animals play a major role in human contagion.

Hong Kong has been collecting samples from other pets including rabbits and chinchillas, but only the hamsters have tested positive. 

READ MORE: First known Covid case was reportedly market vendor in China's Wuhan

Source: Reuters