As residents rescue abandoned pets in coronavirus-hit areas, campaigners say local governments are calling for pets to be culled.
Thousands of pets trapped in the epicentre of China’s deadly coronavirus outbreak are at risk of starving to death, according to animal rescuers and activists.
The warning comes as campaigners claim local governments have called for pet dogs and cats to be culled, due to discredited concerns they can be infected with the illness that began in the Hubei province city of Wuhan.
Wuhan’s mayor, Zhou Xianwang, recently told a news conference five million people had left his city ahead of the Chinese New Year.
Based on this figure, one man on the frontline of the rescue effort to save abandoned animals has estimated up to 50,000 pets have been left in Wuhan homes.
“My conservative estimate is that around 5,000 are still trapped, and they may die of starvation in the coming days,” said Lao Mao, not his real name.
“The volunteers on our team, me included, have saved more than 1,000 pets since 25 January”.
Mr Mao told reporters how he broke into one home – at the request of its owners – to feed two starving cats that had been trapped inside for 10 days.
The owners, who had left Wuhan for a three-day holiday but could not get back into the city due to travel restrictions, reportedly cried with relief over news their pets were safe.
Sky News understands Mr Mao chose not to reveal his real name as his family did not know he was “out and about” in the city.
Coronavirus has caused 425 deaths in China and there have been more than 20,000 confirmed cases of the illness which stemmed from a wildlife market.
Outside China, one person has died – in the Philippines – and there were at least 171 confirmed cases in 24 countries and regions.