Denmark mulls digging up, burning COVID-infected 'zombie mink'

WATCH: Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen broke down when visiting a mink farmer who lost his herd following the government's order this month to cull all 17 million minks in the country to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Danish authorities say they’re considering a “kill it with fire” approach to their so-called “zombie mink” problem after hundreds of dead animals burst out of their mass graves following a major cull over a coronavirus mutation.

The COVID-19 horror story has already killed one politician’s career and saddled another with a bizarre and difficult cleanup job. It’s also stoked anger in the community where nearly 17 million dead mink are buried, as the animal carcasses continue to pop out of the ground.

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Rasmus Prehn, Denmark’s new food and agriculture minister, pitched a plan to lawmakers on Monday to dig up the mink carcasses and incinerate them.

Prehn says he’d need approval from Denmark’s environmental agency to exhume and burn the carcasses.

Officials are also thinking about disinfecting and reburying the mink if the incinerator plan is rejected.

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No decision has been made yet, but pressure is mounting on the government to resolve a mink problem that simply will not stay buried. Locals fear the dead and potentially infected animals will contaminate their water supply, although officials say there is no risk of that happening.

The whole fiasco dates back to early October, when Danish scientists noticed that 12 people had a mutated strain of the virus that causes COVID-19. They realized that the virus had passed from humans to mink, then mutated and passed back to humans.

The government responded by ordering a sweeping cull of roughly 17 million mink in the country.

Authorities killed the mink, dumped them in trenches at a military facility in western Denmark, then covered them with two metres of soil.

But the problem came back.

Mink farmers challenged the cull order in court, and a judge ultimately ruled that it was illegal. The decision prompted then-agriculture minister Mogen Jensen to resign, leaving Prehn to take over.

Meanwhile, locals reported that the dead mink had begun bursting out of their graves. Authorities say the mink were forced out of the ground by gases that built up during decomposition, and that the problem would continue if left unaddressed.

Local media dubbed them “zombie mink,” and pressure mounted last week for Prehn to solve the problem.

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Denmark is the world’s largest exporter of mink fur, and the cull has affected thousands of jobs. The cull has also angered many in the country, particularly after video went viral of a failed attempt to kill one of the animals.

Spain and the Netherlands have culled mink due to similar outbreaks, and cases have also been identified on mink farms in the United States.

It’s unclear when Denmark will make a final decision on its dead mink.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

With files from Reuters and The Associated Press

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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