COVID-19 has made its way to second B.C. mink farm, no workers sick

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VICTORIA — Minks on a second farm in British Columbia's Fraser Valley have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans.

Three minks that died on the farm tested positive for the virus, the Ministry of Agriculture said in a news release Thursday, noting the animals were tested after some on the farm had diarrhea.

It said 23 animals died between Dec. 19 and 23.

B.C.'s chief veterinarian has placed the farm under a quarantine prohibiting the movement of animals or materials from the property to minimize the risk of spreading the virus.

No workers on the farm have tested positive for COVID-19 and it's unclear where the minks contracted the virus, the ministry statement said.

Earlier this month, several workers and animals tested positive at a separate Fraser Valley farm where about 200 minks died over a five-day period.

At the time of the test results on the first farm, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the situation was concerning because transmissions between humans and minks have occurred in other countries and there's potential for the virus to mutate.

All mink farms in B.C. are taking part in an enhanced surveillance and testing program to monitor for COVID-19, the ministry said.

"A plan is in place to provide feed and care to the mink during the outbreak that respects the conditions of the quarantine and maintains both worker and mink safety," its statement said.

There are about 1,000 minks on the second farm, while the first farm where animals contracted the virus that causes COVID-19 has 15,000 animals.

The ministry said the locations of the farms will not be released.

Both farms were inspected by ministry staff as part of a routine process over the summer to ensure they were in compliance with all animal welfare and biosecurity standards, the ministry said.

There are 13 mink farms in B.C., almost all of which are in the Fraser Valley, according to the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

After the first outbreak of COVID-19 earlier this month, the SPCA called for a moratorium on mink farming in B.C. through the immediate suspension of all mink farm licences.

Representatives for the SPCA and the Canadian Mink Breeders Association could not immediately be reached for comment.

Denmark, the world's largest supplier of mink fur, decided last month to cull all of its farmed minks, amounting to about 15 million animals.

The World Health Organization said at the time the decision was made after it was determined it wasn't possible to stop the spread of the infection from farm to farm, or from animals to humans.

The organization said in a statement posted online there had been more than 300 cases of COVID-19 in Denmark among people working in mink pelting, suggesting "there is an increased risk of COVID-19 infection in people who are involved in farming, culling and pelting of mink."

Several hundred mink culled in Denmark began rising up from shallow graves after gas built up in the bodies, Danish authorities said last month.

Spain culled about 100,000 farmed minks, and in the U.S., about 10,000 minks in Utah died as the virus spread across farms.

— with files from The Associated Press.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 24, 2020.

The Canadian Press