The hamster has now surfaced as a fluffy new symbol of dissidence in Hong Kong as the perfect pet in a bustling city of apartment dwellers.
But with 11 hamsters testing positive for COVID alongside someone who works at a pet shop and one customer, Hong Kong authorities have ordered citizens to turn over all hamsters purchased after December 22. They said that the hamsters would be subjected to “humane dispatch.”
The euthanasia efforts have taken more than 2,200 hamsters from dozens of pet shops. Some guinea pigs, rabbits, and chinchillas have been exterminated, too, says Hong Kong’s agriculture department.
Thomas Sit, assistant director of Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation department, told the New York Times, “We don’t want to cull all the animals. But we have to protect public health and animal health. We have no choice.”
With Hong Kong’s “zero-COVID strategy,” stringent lockdowns have been placed during the pandemic. Schools and playgrounds have been closed, with restaurants bearing a curfew of 6 pm. Much of the air travel has been canceled. As a result, infection rates have remained low.
The risk of contracting coronavirus from pets is “negligible,” says the City University of Hong Kong’s Center for Animal Health and Welfare, a point which scientists and world health officials agree to.
Only one has tested positive out of the 113 hamsters surrendered to Hong Kong’s authorities.
Washington Post reporters quoted a woman (who asked not to be named) who said that she refused when her mother asked her to get rid of her hamster in fear of the Hong Kong authorities.
She told her mother, “I won’t throw you out if anything happens to you, as you are my family. Same goes for my hamster; it is my family.”
Platforms used during the mass anti-government protests pre-pandemic began to see activity again with hamster owners logging in to it. Under names like Life on Palm and Cute Hamster Group, thousands of people in Hong Kong were defying government orders and were taking in hamsters that would otherwise be euthanized.
The Hong Kong government has described the outcry as “irrational.”
Columnist Scott Simon ends his opinion piece on the topic with the question: “This ‘Hamster Uprising’ is far from the scale of the 2019 mass protests for the freedoms many in Hong Kong believe they were guaranteed. But each hamster spared may be a small act of defiance, protection, and love. What could be more rational than that?”