by Philip Cowley
Thursday, 20
January 2022
Off grid
14:00

What next after the Hong Kong Hamstercide?

Zero Covid countries are reaching for increasingly desperate policies
by Philip Cowley
First they came for the hamsters… Credit: Getty

However badly today goes for you, at least you’re not a hamster in Hong Kong.

A handful of Covid cases were linked to a pet shop in Causeway Bay on Hong Kong island; all of the “small mammals” in that shop — and its store — are now off to the great hamster wheel in the sky. That alone put paid to around 900 hamsters, 150 rabbits, and 40 chinchillas. The English language version of the government’s press release contained a delightful typo, saying that the animals would be treated in a “humane manor”, which sounds more fun than what we all know really awaits them.

In addition, the import of hamsters has been banned and all other pet shops in Hong Kong are currently shut, until their pets have been tested. The government are contact tracing anyone who visited the Causeway Bay shop, while anyone who bought a hamster since late-December in any shop is being asked to bring it in for testing, followed, even if negative, by culling. It’s a bad way to lose a Christmas present. Anyone whose pet tests positive will be carted off to the government quarantine centre for three weeks, which must be quite an incentive for a bit of hamstercide on the sly. Local media is full of children tearfully saying farewell to their pets, while social media is packed with memes mocking the government.

To many in the West, this will sound like an absurd overreaction. But it’s what happens when your goal is zero Covid. Policy ceases to be about proportionality — about balancing costs, risks, and benefits. It becomes about absolutes. If the goal is zero, you cannot take chances.

In many ways, the pet massacre is just the logical development of the other policies currently in place. There are total flight bans from multiple countries. A full three weeks in hotel quarantine for almost every visitor. Compulsory hospitalisation for weeks for anyone found to have Covid, even if asymptomatic, while anyone they’ve been in contact with gets chucked into quarantine. Ambush style lockdowns of buildings to carry out compulsory testing. Children separated from their parents, and held in isolation. 

Restaurants are currently shut in the evenings. Bars completely. Most sport or other leisure activities are shuttered. And today the government announced it was stopping face-to-face teaching in secondary schools. Primaries went about a week ago. This is the third school shut down since Covid began. Two years into Covid, and no one here can see a way forward. The goal is to reopen the border with the mainland, a goal which requires zero cases, but they don’t seem to have an exit plan either. Even if this current wave can be contained, and things slowly open up again, another will follow. Rinse and repeat, just with fewer rodents.

Maybe the hamsters are the lucky ones.

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Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
4 months ago

Should not the UK government step in to save the hamsters? A jumbo jet should be able to accommodate all the hamster refugees from this hamstercide. Hamster Lives Matter.

Andrea Re
Andrea Re
4 months ago

But how many of the rules we have to live through were unthinkable until they became… thinkable and subsequently a reality?

Last edited 4 months ago by Andrea Re
Gunner Myrtle
Gunner Myrtle
4 months ago
Reply to  Andrea Re

This could easily happen in Canada.

Josh Woods
Josh Woods
4 months ago
Reply to  Gunner Myrtle

They did this to shelter dogs in Australia during the Delta outbreak, and of course another infamous incident here in the UK 21 years ago during the foot-and-mouth disease that was initiated by Null Ferguson- Wait, the name really rings a bell here! Also remind what that quote by Mark Twain was?

Last edited 4 months ago by Josh Woods
Jonathan Ellman
Jonathan Ellman
4 months ago

Not allowing the spread of nature’s vaccine, the omicron variant, is a crime against humanity.

James B
James B
4 months ago

Beyond any words. In my opinion, the inability to admit that the policy was a mistake from the beginning is the main problem. Admission of failure = failure at the Ballot Box. Except in jolly old China, of course.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
4 months ago

Looks like we have come full circle. The wet markets in Wuhan were blamed to hide the obvious explanation for the virus: that it had escaped from the Institute of Virology in the city.

Josh Woods
Josh Woods
4 months ago

This hamstercide eerily reminds me of a certain nefarious policy initiated by Null Ferguson(misspelling intentional) during the foot-and-mouth disease saga, and I bet most of my fellow UnHerd readers know which one I’m implying. And also the culling of shelter dogs in Australia during the Delta outbreak. And remind me again what THAT quote by Mark Twain was?

Last edited 4 months ago by Josh Woods
Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
4 months ago

I think – Hamsters are the lucky ones. In more ways than one. I cannot contemplate the conditions and treatment of pets in HK. Cooped up in small flats, in heat and cold . I used to live there & once saw a bunny in the car park of my building. Clearly the owner had too much and let it loose . No one came to claim it, the guard kept it but who knows if it ended up in his pot.