Denmark has announced that it would cull up to 17 million minks in the country after they were found to contain a new mutation of the novel coronavirus.
The Nordic country, which is the world’s largest producer of mink furs, made the decision after it was found that 12 people in the country’s north were found to have been infected by a mutation in the virus after coming in contact with the small mammals.
On Wednesday, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen made the announcement and said that the decision was made with a “heavy heart,” but that the alternative risked was to risk the outbreak of an even deadlier and more virulent pathogen.
She revealed that the mutated virus weakens the ability to form antibodies, potentially complicating if not negating any vaccines that are currently under development.
“The virus has mutated in mink. The mutated virus has spread to humans,” Frederiksen said.
“The mutated virus in mink may pose a risk to the effectiveness of a future vaccine,” Frederiksen said.
“It is very, very serious,” she added. “Thus, the mutated virus in minks can have devastating consequences worldwide.”
Danish public health authority Statens Serum Institut reported that it had found five cases of the virus in mink farms and 12 examples of humans that had a reduced sensitivity to antibodies, endangering the effectiveness of any future vaccines.
“We have a great responsibility towards our own population, but with the mutation that has now been found, we have an even greater responsibility for the rest of the world as well,” Frederiksen said.
Roughly half of the 783 human coronavirus cases in northern Denmark are directly related to mink, according to Health Minister Magnus Heunicke.
The infection had spread to at least 207 farms, a sharp uptick from 41 last month, while the virus has also spread to encompass the entire western peninsula of Jutland.
There are between 15 and 17 million mink in the country, according to authorities. Past attempts to control coronavirus outbreaks at mink farms across Denmark have largely failed, despite efforts to cull infected creatures since June.
About one million minks at roughly 60 mink farms were wiped out in October, but the cull proved ineffective in controlling the outbreak.
Mink have also been culled in Spain and the Netherlands after infections were detected there.
The government said that the new cull could cost around 5 billion kroner, or about $785 million. The cull will be assisted by Denmark’s home guard, police, and military.
The culling “should happen as soon as possible,” said national police chief Thorkild Fogde.
Denmark easily ranks at the top of countries that produce mink skins, with the country producing about 17 million furs per year.
Kopenhagen Fur, an industry cooperative of 1,500 breeders in Denmark, accounts for 40 percent of global mink production, with most exports going to China and Hong Kong.
The association called the announced cull a “black day for Denmark” and decried the government’s decision as tantamount to a death sentence for the national pelt industry.
“Of course, we must not be the cause of a new pandemic,” chairman Tage Pedersen said. “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.”
Denmark has recorded at least 50,530 coronavirus infections and 729 deaths.
The Prime Minister said that new instructions would be introduced in regions across the country to contain the spread of the mutated virus.
“Unfortunately, the residents of those municipalities have to prepare for further restrictions in the near future,” she said.
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