(HEALTH & ANIMAL SAFETY) CHINA — Campaigners in areas hit by the deadly coronavirus are calling for the cull of street and domestic dogs and cats after rumors spread that they can also be infected with the illness.

While an estimated five million people reportedly fled the city of Wuhan ahead of the Chinese New Year, it’s estimated at least 50,000 pets have been left behind and are now at risk of starving to death.

As the World Health Organization confirmed there’s no evidence that pet dogs or cats can be infected with the coronavirus, a number of animal welfare advocates are working to relay this information to the public and rescue abandoned animals.

Continue reading below to learn more about these dire rescue efforts. — Global Animal

The World Health Organisation has refuted ‘rumours’ that dogs and cats can catch the coronavirus

Sky News, Clare Sibthorpe

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.

Animal activists say thousands of abandoned pets are at risk of starvation

The Humane Society International told Sky News it suspects the number of pets at risk of starvation in Wuhan is higher than Mr Mao’s estimate.

HSI spokeswoman Wendy Higgins said the organisation was also concerned about reports that local governments are ordering the culling of street and domestic dogs and cats.

Ms Higgins said these reports were coming from animal welfare groups on the ground in areas including Beijing, Tianjin, Shandong, Heilongjiang, Hebei, Wuhan, Shanxi and Shanghai.

“We are in regular contact with a network of about 35 or so animal groups through the Chinese social media channel Weibo, and we usually set the net wide, so it’s not a selective small area that’s relaying these reports,” Ms Higgins said.

“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 there had been no reports of actual culling, but that it would not be uncommon for China to take the “knee jerk response” of killing dogs “for very little provocation” for the assumed purpose of public safety.

The World Health Organisation has confirmed there is no evidence that pet dogs or cats can be infected with the virus.

Ms Higgins said animal welfare advocates in China are working to relay this information to the public and to rescue abandoned pets.

More Sky News: https://news.sky.com/story/coronavirus-thousands-of-abandoned-pets-at-risk-of-starving-to-death-11925792