Belgium is monitoring and testing its mink population weekly after Denmark reported a widespread outbreak of a new variant of the novel coronavirus at its mink farms.
The Danish government this week announced it planned to cull the nation's entire mink population of 17 million in order to contain the spread after it discovered evidence that the virus that causes Covid-19 had mutated in mink, after being passed on by humans.
Belgium has a smaller mink population, with 15 mink farms currently in operation in Flanders, the Flemish region in the country’s north, according to the Belgian Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC). Fur farming is banned in the rest of the country.
Steven Van Gucht, head virologist at the Belgian Health Authority (Sciensano), told Belgian radio on Saturday: “Samples are collected every week at the mink farms to check if the new coronavirus strain has broken out at Belgian mink farms.
“So far, all tests have come back negative. If the new strain does show up here, all mink will have to be culled.”
However, he said he was “not that worried” about the new variant.
“It seems unlikely that the mink variant would have become more dangerous for people. On the contrary I suspect what has happened is that it has become better adapted to mink and so therefore it is probably less adapted to humans,” Van Gucht added.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said Wednesday the decision to cull the minks had been made with a "heavy heart," but it was necessary based on the recommendation of health authorities.
Coronavirus mutations are not expected to alter vaccine efficacy, a World Health Organization scientist said in June.
Speaking at a briefing on Friday, another WHO expert, Maria Van Kekhove, cautioned that "mutations are normal."