Denmark is set to cull minks in farms across the country to minimise the risk of them re-transmitting a mutated version of COVID-19 to humans, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced this week.
The decision came after a report from a government agency mapping COVID-19 in Denmark found a mutation in the virus in 12 people who were infected by the farmed minks.
DW reports that, according to Frederiksen, the mutated virus appeared to reduce the ability to form antibodies, which has the potential to render the vaccines currently under development ineffective.
“It is very, very serious,” Frederiksen said, according to Al Jazeera. “Thus, the mutated virus in minks can have devastating consequences worldwide.”
Denmark is one of the world’s leading exporters of mink fur, accounting for 40% of global mink production – most of which goes to China and Hong Kong. Government estimates state that culling the 15 million mink currently being farmed will cost the Scandinavian nation up to five billion kroner ($785m).
Despite this, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke claims that half the 783 human COVID-19 cases in northern Denmark were “related” to minks, and National police head Thorkild Fogde said that the culling needs to happen “as soon as possible”.
This is not the first time that minks have been related to a mutated form of the virus, and the re-transmission to humans. In June 2020, tens of thousands of mink pups were gassed to death in the Netherlands after the virus appeared to “spread like wildfire, even though the animals are housed in separate cages”, reports Science.
Though the transmission of COVID-19 from humans to minks and back again gives scientists a great opportunity to study how the virus spreads between species, and how it mutates, authorities in Denmark have been calling for the infected mink herds for months, as the virus has spread.
The country has recorded 51 042 total cases of the virus, and 51 042 total deaths thus far.