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Denmark says mink coronavirus strain ‘most likely eradicated’

Culling all of its 15-17 million minks, country’s health ministry says no case of mutated strain has been detected since September 15

Minks look out from their cage at the farm of Henrik Nordgaard Hansen and Ann-Mona Kulsoe Larsen as they have to kill off their herd, which consists of 3,000 mother mink and their cubs on their farm near Naestved, Denmark, on November 6, 2020. (Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP)
Minks look out from their cage at the farm of Henrik Nordgaard Hansen and Ann-Mona Kulsoe Larsen as they have to kill off their herd, which consists of 3,000 mother mink and their cubs on their farm near Naestved, Denmark, on November 6, 2020. (Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP)

A mutated version of the new coronavirus detected in Danish minks that raised concerns about the effectiveness of a future vaccine has likely been eradicated, Denmark’s health ministry said Thursday.

“There have been no new cases of the ‘Cluster 5’ mink mutation since September 15, which has led the Danish infectious disease authority SSI to conclude that this variant has most likely been eradicated,” the ministry said in a statement, after the government ordered a cull of all the country’s 15 to 17 million minks in a bid to halt the spread of the variant.

The government said most of the strict restrictions it had imposed on November 5 on seven municipalities in the North Jutland region, home to 280,000 people, would be lifted on Friday.

They had originally been due to stay in place until December 3.

All minks in the seven municipalities have been culled, totaling 10.2 million, and the slaughter is still ongoing in other parts of the country.

With three times more minks than people, the Scandinavian country is the world’s biggest exporter, selling pelts for around 670 million euros ($792 million) annually, and the second-biggest producer behind China.

Mink are buried in a mass grave as Danish health authorities, assisted by members of the Danish Armed Forces, dispose of the animals near Holstebro, Denmark, November 9 2020. (Morten Stricker/Ritzau Scanpix via AP)

The variant strain was feared at one point to have reached Israel after COVID-19 cases were detected among Israelis returning from Denmark. However, no cases of the mink mutation were identified among them.

Viruses such as the novel coronavirus that emerged in China late last year mutate constantly and new variants are not necessarily worse than the previous ones. The mutations have even helped researchers track the sources of outbreaks in various countries.

So far, no study has shown newer SARS-Cov-2 variants to be more contagious or dangerous than their predecessors.

The contamination of minks is not new, with breeders in several countries, including the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United States, reporting cases. A few cases of humans being infected by minks have also been reported.

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