The Chilliwack Progress has learned that the COVID-19 outbreak identified by Fraser Health at a mink ranch in the Fraser Valley is in Chilliwack.
Eight people at the farm have tested positive, according to a Dec. 6 news release from Fraser Health. The health authority is now screening employees and conducting case management and contact tracing.
Animal rights activists responded by calling for an end to the fur trade altogether.
A spokesperson for Toronto-based World Animal Protection called the outbreak a wake-up call for Canada to end the farming and trade of wild animals for luxury products.
“Although the mink are still being tested for the virus here, COVID-19 has spread like wildfire on mink farms in Europe and several states in the U.S.,” Melissa Matlow said via email. “A number of countries have banned fur farming and COVID-19 has led the Netherlands to accelerate their phase-out of the industry. World Animal Protection is strongly encouraging Canada to follow their lead.”
Virginia-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) similarly used the outbreak as a renewed call to end the fur trade.
“Minks were among the animals infected during the SARS outbreak in 2003, and they are known to carry a variety of pathogens and diseases that can be passed on to humans, including hepatitis E and influenza,” said Paula Moore on behalf of The PETA Foundation.
“In addition to being a public health issue, this is also a moral one. Many animals on fur farms slowly go insane and even self-mutilate from the stress of intensive confinement before they are violently killed.”
Denmark recently culled 17 million minks in response to COVID-19 outbreaks at more than 200 farms in the country. A concern raised by health scientists is that the ferret-like animals can contract COVID-19 and the virus can mutate, and pass it back to humans.
Fraser Health said that as with all individuals who test positive or are close contacts with those who test positive for COVID-19, the farm operators and staff are self-isolating.
“The site has been inspected by Fraser Health and WorkSafeBC and we continue to work with the site on their COVID-19 mitigation strategies.”
The farm has been ordered to restrict all transport of animals, products and goods from the location, under the BC Animal Health Act. The minks’ welfare is being supported by the Ministry of Agriculture, and enhanced measures are being put in place to keeps the farm owner and creatures safe.
On Monday, both driveways to the Chilliwack farm were taped off. The Progress is not identifying the location.
COVID-19 can be naturally acquired by a small number of animals, including domestic cats, lions and tigers, dogs and minks, according to the BC Centre for Disease Control, and clinical illness can result in cats and farmed mink.
All employers in B.C., including mink farms, are required to implement COVID-19 safety plans, Fraser Health said. This includes requirements to assess any risks to workers, and plans to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace.
The outbreak is being addressed through a partnership of BC Ministry of Agriculture, BC Ministry of Health, WorkSafeBC and BC Centre for Disease Control to support the health of farm operators and staff.
WorkSafeBC’s Consultation & Education Services team is now reaching out directly to other mink farms across the province to discuss requirements.
The Progress did try to connect with the mink ranch via email for a comment but did not get a response.
– with files from Patrick Penner
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