Denmark is killing its large mink population after discovering a coronavirus mutation that can spread to humans, the nation’s government said Wednesday.
The country, which is the world’s largest supplier of mink fur, will cull as many as 17 million animals in an effort to stop the spread.
“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,” Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said in a news conference, according to the BBC.
She said Danish officials have seen the mutated virus display a weak reaction to antibodies.
The government said it is concerned that the variant could reduce the effectiveness of a future vaccine. It’s worth noting that all viruses mutate, something that doesn’t necessarily mean they are more dangerous.
Danish officials notified the World Health Organization and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Twelve people have been diagnosed with the virus strain so far, according to the WHO. About 200 coronavirus cases in total can be traced to exposure from mink.
“It is normal for viruses to mutate or change over time. WHO works with networks of researchers, including evolutionary virologists, sequencing teams, and synthetic biologists to look at these changes,” the WHO said in a statement to NPR.
The government has not released specific details on the virus variation.
Thousands of minks recently died in Utah after the coronavirus swept through farms, according to Boise State Public Radio. But the state veterinarian said at the time that people didn’t appear to be at risk from that outbreak.
Emma Hodcroft, a virologist and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Basel, in Switzerland, urged people not to panic.
There’s not enough information to tell how dangerous the mutation is, she explained on Twitter. Hodcroft also criticized the lack of information disclosed.
“If Denmark believes this is serious enough to kill their entire mink population,” Hodcroft tweeted, “one would perhaps also conclude that this [is] serious enough to pass on the information about these mutations to scientists worldwide as quickly as possible to see if variants are found elsewhere.”