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Denmark backs off order to kill minks infected with virus

CULTURE 13:55: Nov-26, 20
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The Danish government backtracked Tuesday on an order to farmers to kill 15 million minks infected with the novel coronavirus after realizing that it has no legal authority to mandate the culling of the country's entire mink population.

Instead, the government changed its position to "recommend" that farmers kill all minks to curb the spread of the virus. The government is putting forward new legislation for the mass culling of minks. It normally takes 30 days to pass a new bill.

The Nordic country issued the kill order last week after it learned that those infected with the coronavirus from humans are transmitting it with mutations back to humans. Denmark is the first country where the virus was found to transmit back to a human from an animal.

A mink is a carnivorous mammal that ranges from 12 to 18 inches long, not counting the tail. They also on average weigh less than 3 pounds. Minks are prized for their fur and are mostly raised on farms, where their treatment often has led to protests by animal rights supporters.

According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), since June, 214 human cases of the coronavirus have been identified in Denmark, with variants associated with farmed minks, including 12 cases with a unique variant reported on Nov 5. The cases involved people ranging from 7 to 79 years old.

The WHO report said that the initial observations suggest that the clinical presentation, severity and transmission among those infected are similar to that of another circulating novel coronavirus. However, the new variant, referred to as the "cluster 5" variant, has a combination of mutations that has not been previously observed.

On Nov 5, Denmark announced a strict new lockdown in the northern part of the country where most mink farms are located.

Danish officials said 216 mink farms out of 300 were infected with the coronavirus.

WHO said that the new variant identified in both minks and the 12 human cases has moderately decreased sensitivity to neutralizing antibodies. That could pose a potential risk to the effectiveness of future COVID-19 vaccines.

The WHO said that further scientific and laboratory-based studies are required to verify preliminary findings reported and to understand any potential implications of that finding in terms of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines in development.

According to the WHO, it remains a concern when any animal virus spills in to the human population, or when an animal population could contribute to amplifying and spreading a virus affecting humans.

Denmark also will conduct widespread testing of people living in affected areas and increase genomic sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 viruses across the country.

CNN reported that the UK banned travelers from Denmark due to the outbreak on Nov 7. UK citizens and visa holders will be able to return but will have to quarantine for 14 days.

A report in the British newspaper The Guardian said that 10 mink farms have identified the presence of COVID-19 in Denmark's neighbor Sweden. So far Sweden has no plan to cull mink.

According to a report by the US Agriculture Department, the coronavirus was transmitted from a human to a tiger in New York in April. Since then, there have been reports of minks, dogs and cats contracting the virus from humans.

The American Veterinary Medical Association reported that at least 8,000 minks died of COVID-19 on farms in Utah in October. Authorities in Wisconsin and Michigan also reported mink deaths.

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