Medical experts in Hong Kong supported the government’s decision to cull more than 2,000 hamsters and other small animals amid the COVID-19 scare, as pet owners were outraged over the decision.

“As scientists and doctors, we all understand we must have respect for all lives, but we have to make a decision and think clearly what’s best for the people on the basis of public health,” said Yuen Kwok-yung, University of Hong Kong’s microbiologist and advisor to the Hong Kong government.

The local government in China’s semi-autonomous region on Tuesday ordered the culling of more than 2,000 hamsters and other small mammals after health officials recorded coronavirus cases at a shop.

According to public broadcaster RTHK, Yuen said the government does not have the capacity to isolate and test all the animals. He said the move would “cut off any invisible virus transmission chains among the hamsters.”

Warning of “dire consequences” if the delta variant is transmitted from hamsters to humans, he said: “Many unvaccinated elderly people in Hong Kong would be at risk of dying.”

Yuen also referred to Denmark where around 17 million minks were culled in 2020 “after the animals were found to have the coronavirus.”

Meanwhile, a petition has been launched by animal lovers on against the government’s decision.

David Hui of the Chinese University, who also advises the government on virus response, said: “It is common practice to cull all the animals linked to an outbreak from the perspective of public health.”

“We already have evidence that some hamsters at the Causeway Bay shop have been infected, while the warehouse in Tai Po has been contaminated too. It’s normal that the whole batch of animals needs to be culled. It’s impossible to test every one of them,” he added.

Hong Kong has so far reported 13,082 COVID-19 cases, including 213 deaths, due to the virus.

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