JARED SIVILA WRITES — After two long years, COVID-19 still rages on, plaguing the world not just with a contagious disease but with fear, paranoia, and absolute desperation.

While some countries have reimplemented lockdown protocols, others have embraced a lax stance for the pandemic.

Hong Kong appears to have clamped down harder. In fact, its ambition to contain the spread of COVID does not stop within its own borders, with flight cancellations, mandatory covid tests, or arrests. Recently, the government attempted its most controversial measure: to stomp out the rising numbers of the disease by culling hamsters.

A pet store named “Little Boss” was where the first transmission happened between an infected worker and the little animals.  After 11 positive tests from other hamsters in the store, government authorities announced that it will be euthanizing 2,000 hamsters and collecting other small animals, such as rabbits and chinchillas, for testing and possible euthanization.

Obviously, this decision was met with confusion, befuddlement, and outrage. Online petitions called for the government to take a step back and assess what they were asking of not just stores, but owners of beloved pets. With 20,000 signees on the online petition, Hong Kong’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) called out its government for cruelty and blatant ignorance of the bond between humans and animals.

Following in China’s footsteps, Hong Kong has embraced a zero-COVID policy since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. The once bustling city is now a shell of its former self, with restrictions preventing access to recreational areas, campuses, and most international flights in and out of the country. Quarantines have just been shortened to 14 days, but arrests are still being made in a desperate attempt to keep the city relatively COVID free.  This new, iron-fisted decision to collect and cull thousands of hamsters may be consistent with its other mandates, but has hit hard at the hearts of hamster lovers…and other small living things.

The implications of the mandate serve as yet another source of heartbreak for the hundreds of thousands of citizens in Hong Kong already struggling with the zero-COVID policy. While the government offered compensation of around HK$30,000 or around $3850 USD, to pet shops willing to trade in hamsters, could that ever replace the warmth and affection that a pet brings to a home?

COVID spreading to innocent, unsuspecting animals is yet another cruel circumstance of the pandemic today. Pets of all shapes and sizes are vital support systems for people as the world remains chaotic. Yet as reflected in Hong Kong’s policy, some feel pressured to preserve and protect the lives of humans over animals.  Covid has not only stirred conflict between the government and its people, but between humans and animals as well.

For Hong Kong, even if it means euthanizing animals, the government will continue to move forward in a desperate attempt to return to normalcy.

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