The incident happened at a medical college in Meerut, a city in the Uttar Pradesh area of northern India on Tuesday, according to officials.
“Monkeys grabbed and fled with the blood samples of four COVID-19 patients who are undergoing treatment,” Dr. S. K. Garg, a top official at the college, told Reuters. He added that it’s unclear whether the tubes of blood had been spilled.
Garg also urged calm amid fears that the monkeys might spread the coronavirus around Meerut.
“No evidence has been found that monkeys can contract the infection,” he said.
Twitter users quickly compared the incident to science fiction stories such as Planet of the Apes and 28 Days Later, in which monkey test subjects release a virus that wipes out most of humanity.
“And now we’re living the prequel to Planet of the Apes,” one user tweeted. “2020 just keeps on giving.”
“Can’t figure out if we’re living in Contagion, 28 Days Later or Planet of the Apes now,” added user Charles Arthur.
The coronavirus is already loose in most countries, including India, which has more than 165,000 confirmed cases and 4,700 deaths.
It’s believed that the virus originated in bats and was later passed to humans, perhaps through an intermediary animal, at a wet market in Wuhan, China.
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.
For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.
—With files from Reuters