Hamster accused of spreading COVID in Hong Kong never had it

January 28, 2022, 3:54 PM UTC

It’s been a bad couple of months for domesticated rodents in Hong Kong, but there could be some light at the end of the Habitrail.

A hamster that was blamed as being the cause of a COVID outbreak in a residential building in the region has been confirmed to not actually have the virus and will be returned to its owner. The hamster had been suspected of bringing the virus into the building, where at least three people were eventually infected.

The fluffy false alarm follows a widespread culling of the house pets in December and early January. All told, more than 2,500 hamsters were rounded up and euthanized after officials traced a COVID-19 case back to an imported hamster from the Netherlands.

It’s a grim fate for a species that has done everything from help sell Kia’s cars to trade cryptocurrencies so successfully that Warren Buffett was outpaced.

Hong Kong, like China, is pursuing a COVID-zero strategy, and authorities “strongly recommended” that pet owners surrender hamsters. It slaughtered the animals (as well as some rabbits) and banned the import of future rodents in the city. An underground collection of nearly 3,000 volunteers, however, worked to save abandoned hamsters.

The furor over the fate of the pets grew to such an extent that the CDC eventually weighed in, saying, “At this time, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to people.”

It also prompted an NFT protest.

Only 113 hamsters were surrendered by their owners in Hong Kong. Of those, just one turned out to test positive.

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