By Nikolaj Skydsgaard
COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Parts of Denmark will face new, tougher lockdown measures after health authorities discovered a mutated coronavirus strain in minks and people in the north of the country.
The government has said it would cull all minks to prevent human contagion with a mutated coronavirus, which authorities said could be more resistant against future vaccines for people.
The move to cull up to 17 million animals, which could cost the state more than $800 million, has prompted some lawmakers to demand to see the evidence behind the decision.
“We are asking to have it (the evidence) sent over, so we can assess the technical basis,” a spokesperson for the Liberal Party told broadcaster TV2 on Wednesday.
The industry association for Danish mink breeders called it a “black day for Denmark”, and said the government’s decision amounted to a death knell for the country’s pelt industry.
“Of course, we must not be the cause of a new pandemic. We do not know the professional basis for this assessment and risk … but the government’s decision is a disaster for the industry and Denmark,” chairman Tage Pedersen said.
At his family-owned mink farm west of the capital Copenhagan, 34-year-old Hans Henrik Jeppesen said he was devastated by the decision.
“This is a very, very sad situation for me and my family,” he told Reuters. Jeppesen’s 36,000 minks have not been infected, but will be culled and skinned within the next 10 days.
Outbreaks at mink farms have persisted in Denmark, Europe’s largest producer and exporter of mink furs, despite repeated efforts to cull infected animals since June.
Animal rights groups welcomed the decision by the government, and called for a general ban on what they said was an “outdated” industry.
“Although not a ban on fur farming, this move signals the end of suffering for millions of animals confined to small wire cages on Danish fur farms,” said Joanna Swabe of Humane Society International.
Municipalities in northern Denmark, home to most of the country’s mink farms, will face restrictions on movement across county lines, while restaurants and bars will be forced to close, the mayor of Vesthimmerland Municipality, Per Bach Laursen, told Reuters.
The ministry of health declined to comment, but is expected to announce a range of new measures aimed at containing the new virus strain later on Thursday.
In a report published on Wednesday, the State Serum Institute (SSI), the authority dealing with infectious diseases, said laboratory tests showed the new strain had mutations on its so-called spike protein, a part of the virus that invades and infects healthy cells.
That poses a risk to future COVID-19 vaccines, which are based on disabling the spike protein, SSI said.
“There is a risk that vaccines targeting the spike protein will not provide optimal protection against the new viruses occurring in mink,” it said.
The World Health Organization said on Wednesday it was aware of reports of people being infected with coronavirus from mink, and that it maintained a dialogue with Danish authorities.
(Reporting by Nikolaj Skydsgaard; Editing by Mike Collett-White)