Tens of thousands of pets stuck in the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak are at risk of starving to death, campaigners have warned.
An estimated 50,000 pets have been left behind in Wuhan, in China’s Hubei province, after owners were evacuated in a bid to stop the virus spreading further.
Many were unable to take their beloved animals with them or thought they would soon return and have been desperately seeking the help of animal rescue teams to give them food.
Wuhan’s mayor, Zhou Xianwang, said 5,000,000 people had fled the city ahead of Chinese New Year, leading animal rights activists to calculate the amount of pets left behind.
The campaigners’ warning comes after claims local authorities have called for the culling of dogs and cats amid discredited fears they could be carriers of the virus, which has killed 425 people.
One man, who has so far saved around 1,000 animals with rescue teams in Wuhan, told Sky News a family had asked him to break into their home and feed their two cats.
Lao Mao, not his real name, said they had been trapped inside without enough food for 10 days after the owners had gone on holiday.
They had planned to be away for only three days but following crisis travel restrictions across the country, they were not allowed back into Wuhan.
Mr Mao said the family sobbed with relief after being told their pets were alive and safe after he fed them.
However, others may not be so lucky as the ratio of animals to volunteers is overwhelming.
He told the news site: ‘My conservative estimate is that around 5,000 are still trapped, and they may die of starvation in the coming days.
‘The volunteers on our team, me included, have saved more than 1,000 pets since 25 January’.
However, Humane International Society predicts the numbers are much higher and are concerned about multiple reports they received regarding local governments ordering the culling of the dogs and cats.
Spokeswoman Wendy Higgins said the charity has been working with around 35 animal rights groups through Chinese social media channel Weibo across the country.
She said they’d received reports of culling orders in Beijing, Tianjin, Shandong, Heilongjiang, Hebei, Wuhan, Shanxi and Shanghai.
‘If the local authorities decide that dogs per say are a threat, I would be concerned for the welfare of both street dogs and home dogs,’ she said.
More than 2,000 people have been infected with the deadly virus, which has been declared a global health emergency.
One person in the Philippines has died from the virus outside of China, which has had strict travel restrictions imposed on it from various countries.
The World Health Organisation has confirmed there is no evidence dogs and cats can be infected with the virus which broke out in a fresh meat market in the city.
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