Denmark Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has ordered the culling of around 17 million minks out of fear the animals will spread a new dangerous strain of the coronavirus to humans and essentially threaten the effectiveness of potential COVID-19 vaccines.

Frederiksen’s announcement comes after 12 people have contracted the mutated strain of the virus, which is considered “very, very serious” and could potentially have “devastating consequences worldwide,” Forbes reports.

Since minks are kept on farms and in close proximity, there are concerns that the virus could be spread rapidly.

Officials are convinced the new strain of the coronavirus won’t be as susceptible to antibodies, which could make vaccines in development useless.

Due to Denmark’s  struggle to contain the outbreaks, Thorkild Fogde, the national police chief, has suggested that the culling “should happen as soon as possible.”

Denmark is one of the world’s main mink fur exporters with an estimated 17 million furs produced each year, the Seattle Times reports.

The culling of around 15 million minks could cost the government up to 5 billion kroner ($785 million). 

Animal welfare group Humane Society International has praised the prime minister for taking the necessary steps to protect the people.

“Although the death of millions of mink — whether culled for COVID-19 or killed for fur — is an animal welfare tragedy, fur farmers will now have a clear opportunity to pivot away from this cruel and dying industry and choose a more humane and sustainable livelihood instead,” Joanna Swabe, Humane Society International-Europe spokesperson, said in a statement.

Denmark has a reported 50,530 positive COVID-19 cases and 729 deaths.

To ease the burden of the coronavirus pandemic on the economy, Denmark is giving money to companies so they can keep their employees To ease the burden of the coronavirus pandemic on the economy, Denmark is giving money to companies so they can keep their employees Photo: Ritzau Scanpix / Philip Davali