Denmark plans to cull 15 million minks after coronavirus mutation spreads to humans

Workers wear protective equipment as they cull minks in Gjol, Denmark, on Oct. 8, 2020, after a Covid-19 outbreak. Photo Courtesy: AFP

(NBC News): Denmark plans to cull its entire population of roughly 15 million minks in farms after the animals spread a mutation of the coronavirus to humans.

NBC News has reported that the country’s prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, said at a press conference Wednesday that the mutated virus could spread to other countries and it “may pose a risk to the effectiveness of a future vaccine.”

“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.

The mutated virus was found in a dozen people who got infected by minks. Half of the 783 human Covid-19 cases in northern Denmark “are related to mink,” Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said.

Mike Ryan, the head of the emergencies program for the World Health Organization, has called for scientific investigations of the “complex, complex issue” of people outside of China infecting minks, which in turn transmitted the virus back to humans.

Kare Molbak, a director at the research center Statens Serum Institut, said the worst-case scenario would be “a new pandemic, starting all over again out of Denmark.”

“That’s why we have to take this extremely seriously,” Molbak said.

There are between 15 million and 17 million minks in Denmark, one of the world’s main mink fur exporters. According to government estimates, culling the country’s mink population could cost up to $785 million. National police head Thorkild Fogde urged that “it should happen as soon as possible.”

Outbreaks at mink farms have persisted in the country despite repeated efforts to cull infected animals since June. Minks have also been culled in the Netherlands and Spain after infections were discovered.

In the United States, nearly 10,000 minks at nine fur farms in Utah died of Covid-19, state veterinarian Dean Taylor told NBC News last month.

The deaths forced the affected farms to quarantine as the outbreaks were investigated.

Taylor said that the virus predominantly targeted older minks, “wiping out 50 percent of the breeding colonies,” and left the younger ones relatively unscathed. The virus was detected in the animals in August after ranch workers tested positive for the coronavirus.

“Once final testing is done, we’re going to create a state plan to stop this virus from spreading to more farms. It’s far easier to prevent it from happening, then stopping it from happening all at once,” Taylor previously said.

Minks join a list of more than 50 animals in the U.S. that have contracted Covid-19. According to the Department of Agriculture, the virus has also been detected in cats, dogs, tigers and lions.