Denmark has announced plans to kill up to 17 million minks after discovering a mutated form of the novel coronavirus that can spread to humans.
Danish Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, made this known during a press conference, according to the bbc.com.
Mr Frederiksen said the mutated virus may pose a risk to the effectiveness of a future vaccine.
As of Thursday, 216 mink farms in the country were infected with coronavirus and all remaining minks would be killed in line with animal welfare guidelines in the coming weeks, Danish health officials said.
According to officials, Denmark, the world’s biggest producer of mink fur, has a total of around 300 mink farms.
Its main export markets are China and Hong Kong.
The process is said to have begun late last month, after many mink cases were detected.
Countries have reported coronavirus outbreaks among minks throughout this year. More than one million minks in the Netherlands and nearly 100,000 in Spain were culled (selective slaughter) to prevent further transmission, Associated Press reported in August.
Minks, like their close relatives ferrets, are known to be susceptible to coronavirus, and like humans, they can show a range of symptoms, from no signs of illness at all, to severe problems, such as pneumonia.
Minks become infected through catching the virus from humans. But genetic detective work has shown that in a small number of cases, in the Netherlands and now Denmark, the virus seems to have passed the other way, from mink to humans.
Frederiksen described the situation as “very, very serious”.
She cited a government report which said the mutated virus had been found to weaken the body’s ability to form antibodies, potentially making the current vaccines under development for COVID-19 ineffective.
“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,” she said.
She said the Danish police and army personnel will help to carry out the mass culling.
Since the beginning of the pandemic Denmark has reported 53,180 human cases of COVID-19 and 738 deaths, data from Worldometer shows.
Studies are said to be under way to find out how and why minks have been able to catch and spread the infection.
Tyra Krause, a senior public health specialist at Denmark’s State Serum Institute, the authority that identified the mutated strain, said although more research was needed, early lab results found “this variant showed less sensitivity” to antibodies, which could make a potential vaccine “less effective.”
A report on NBCnews.com quoted Krause as predicting “an increase in the coming weeks” in the number of infected patients with the mutated strain, which currently stands at 12 people.
The institute said tests showed the new strain had mutations on its so-called spike protein, which invades and infects healthy cells.
“That poses a risk to future COVID-19 vaccines, which are based on disabling the spike protein.”