The Danish government will slaughter millions of weasels on more than 1,000 farms, citing concern that a mutation in the new coronavirus that has infected weasels could affect the effectiveness of the vaccine in humans.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen made the announcement during a press conference on Wednesday. There are 15 million or more weasels in Denmark, which is one of the major mink fur exporters in the world. She said armed forces would be involved in weasel destruction.
Kare Molbak, head of the State Serum Institute, the government’s public health and infectious diseases agency, warned at the press conference that the mutation could affect the effectiveness of vaccines in the future. The government informed the World Health Organization of the mutation, and also said 12 people in their Jutland area are known to have the disease and that it has a weak reaction to antibodies, according to the reports. believe.
The WHO admitted via email that they were “informed by Denmark about some people infected with mink coronavirus, with some genetic changes in the virus.” The WHO says that Denmark is “investigating the epidemiological and virological significance of these findings, and destroying the mink population. We are contacting them to learn more about this event ”.
There are no published reports of the nature of the mutation or how the virus variant is tested, the researchers outside of Denmark who studied the virus have been somewhat left in the dark. Dr. Stanley Perlman, a microbiologist at the University of Iowa and an expert on the new coronavirus, said he could not evaluate the Danish claims without further information.
So far he hasn’t seen any details yet, but, “Someone will,” said Dr. Jonathan Epstein, vice president for science and outreach at EcoHealth Alliance, a conservation organization. the sequences must be released soon, and evolutionary biologists will finish it. “
On Twitter, Emma Hodcroft, a geneticist at the University of Basel, Switzerland, who is monitoring the spread of the new coronavirus, has called for caution. “Don’t panic,” Dr. Hodcroft tweeted. “Scientists will update as we have more information.”
In September, Dutch scientists reported in an unequaled article that the virus jumped between weasels and humans. In Denmark, the government is describing a version of the virus that has migrated from weasels to humans.
The coronavirus mutates slowly but often, experts say, and another variant of the virus should not cause concern.
Researchers have studied a mutant labeled D614G in the virus’s mutant protein that may increase transmission. They concluded that so far there is no evidence that a particular mutation increases virulence or will affect vaccine activity.
Denmark has started killing all mink on 400 infected farms, or close enough to infected farms to raise concern. Killing all weasels will wipe out the industry, perhaps for many years.
Weasels belong to the weasel family, along with ferrets, which are susceptible to coronavirus infections. The mink has mild symptoms. Mink, kept in crowded conditions ideal to spread the virus, can become sick and die. Mink has also been infected in other countries, including the Netherlands and several states of the United States. Thousands of weasels were killed in Utah because of an outbreak of coronavirus, but authorities there said there was no weasel passing the virus to humans.
Many conservation scientists have become concerned about the spread of the virus to animal populations, such as chimpanzees, which are thought to be sensitive, though cases have yet to be determined. Research teams are experimenting with bats and pets and wildlife in the United States.
Researchers are also concerned about what happens when the virus moves from one species to another and possibly undergoes changes or mutations. While most such changes may not be an issue for humans, there is always a chance that virus strains could become more infectious or more virulent.
The Danish Animal Protection Group, an advocacy group, has recommended a long-term solution to the mink and coronavirus problem: “The right decision is to end mink farming completely and help farmers in other jobs does not endanger public health and animal welfare ”.