Hong Kong to allow import of hamsters after year-long COVID ban

HONG KONG, Jan 5 (Reuters) - Hong Kong's government will lift a ban on the import of hamsters in mid-January, almost a year after more than 2,000 of the rodents were culled due to a cluster of COVID-19 cases traced to a pet shop in the financial hub at the start of 2022.

Based on its latest risk assessment, the city's Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) said on Thursday the restrictions on the commercial importation of hamsters could be lifted.

The government aims to "resume commercial imports of hamsters around mid-January," it said in a statement to Reuters.

The hamsters must be tested for COVID-19 before they can be sold, the AFCD said. "If the test result is positive, the animal must be quarantined... until the test result is satisfactory."

In January 2022, Hong Kong ordered a hamster cull amid an outbreak of Delta variant cases in humans that was traced back to a pet shop worker in the Chinese special administrative region. The move outraged animal lovers and many local residents.

Hundreds of small animals including chinchillas and rabbits in the Chinese-controlled hub were also tested for the coronavirus, with 11 hamsters showing up positive.

Hong Kong's pet rodent clampdown had echoed the mainland's zero-tolerance approach to COVID-19. The former British colony began to shift its approach, gradually unwinding stringent coronavirus rules from the middle of last year.

China announced in December that it would scrap most of its COVID curbs.

Little Boss, the operating company which owned the pet shop at the heart of Hong Kong's hamster cull last year, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A shopkeeper at one of Little Boss’s shops in the city's Kowloon district said they were happy that hamsters would be coming back. Before the ban hamsters accounted for around 20% of the shop's revenue.

"There are around a dozen people, mainly children, already on a waiting list to buy the hamsters in our store," said the shopkeeper, who declined to give her name.

Reporting by Farah Master, Angel Woo and Jessie Pang; editing by Gareth Jones

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