A Dutch judge has ordered the postponement of the culling of over 10,000 minks from a breeding farm where animals have been infected with COVID-19.
The culling, planned to start on Friday, was ordered by Dutch authorities because the infected animals are suspected to have transmitted the disease to two employees of the farm.
But on Thursday evening, a judge from an economic court ordered the culling to be postponed following a complaint filed by groups for the protection of animals.
The culling is to be suspended until at least Monday, when the animal protection groups will defend their case in a hearing.
"The virus can continue to circulate for a long period of time in mink breeding farms and can therefore be a risk for public health and animal health," the Dutch Agriculture minister Carola Schouten and Health minister Hugo de Jonge said on Wednesday as authorities announced the culling order.
The ministers added that this was a "difficult" measure to implement as the breeding farms would be heavily impacted. The authorities have offered financial help to the sector.
The culling would impact seven companies owning nine farms in southern Netherlands, to avoid a spread of the disease in the area.
The Dutch Agriculture ministry confirmed earlier this week two COVID-19 cases in employees from mink breeding farms near Eindhoven, southern Netherlands, where minks have been infected with the novel coronavirus.
The government has banned transport of the animals and implemented mandatory testing in all of the country's mink breeding farms.
"A second COVID-19 case appeared very recently in one of the infected mink farms," the Agriculture minister Carola Schouten said in a letter to Parliament on Monday.
"It is probable that the virus was transmitted from mink to man."
New contaminations outside the farm buildings remains low, the authorities added.
Over 5,830 people have died of COVID-19 in the Netherlands and at least 45,445 people have been infected, according to the country's latest figures.
Minks are bred for their sought-after fur. Their breeding is controversial in the Netherlands. In 2016, the country's highest court ordered the closure of breeding farms before 2024.