Denmark ordered all farmed mink to be culled earlier this month after finding that 12 people had been infected by a mutated strain of the virus that causes COVID-19, which passed from humans to mink and back to humans.
The decision led to the resignation last week of Food and Agriculture Minister Morgens Jensen, after it was determined that the order was illegal.
Dead mink were tipped into trenches at a military area in western Denmark and covered with two meters of soil. But hundreds have begun resurfacing, pushed out of the ground by what authorities say is gas from their decomposition.
Newspapers have referred to them as the “zombie mink.”
Jensen’s replacement, Rasmus Prehn, said on Friday he supported the idea of digging up the animals and incinerating them.
He said he had asked the environmental protection agency look into whether it could be done, and parliament would be briefed on the issue on Monday.
The macabre burial sites, guarded 24 hours a day to keep people and animals away, have drawn complaints from area residents about possible health risks.
Authorities say there is no risk of the graves spreading the coronavirus, but locals worry about the risk of contaminating drinking water and a bathing lake less than 200 meters away.
The developments this month have raised concern in the country over a possible spread of the mutated virus among humans, becoming a potential risk to the efficacy of future vaccines.
“We are always concerned when a virus has gone from humans to animals, and back to humans. Each time this happens, it can change more. So we want to stop this back and forth and the changes that can result,” the World Health Organization told Global News in an earlier statement.
Earlier this month, the Social Democratic minority government got a majority in parliament to back its decision to cull all of Denmark’s roughly 15 million mink, including healthy ones outside the northern part of the country where infections have been found. The proposed law also bans mink farming until the end of 2021.
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The government had announced the cull despite not having the right to order the killing of healthy animals, an embarrassing misstep that caused it to scramble to build political consensus for a new law.
The coronavirus evolves constantly as it replicates but, to date, none of the identified mutations has changed anything about COVID-19’s transmissibility or lethality.
Experts have called for more research into the mutations.
“If the virus gets into a new population such as the mink and it spreads a lot within these animals, then we need to keep a very close eye on that,” Martin Hibberd, professor of emerging infectious disease at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) told Global News in a previous interview.
“The last thing anybody needs is a new strain of this virus passing around the world.”
— Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen Editing by Peter Graff. With files from Saba Aziz, Global News, and The Associated Press.