Thousands of pets in Wuhan are trapped and facing starvation with their owners stranded outside the city by the coronavirus outbreak

Thousands of pets are trapped and facing starvation at home because their owners are either in quarantine or stranded outside the city amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The coronavirus has so far killed 492 people and infected more than 23,000 across 26 countries since in broke out in Wuhan in early December, and now thousands of animals may also be at risk of dying, not because of the virus, but from starvation.

Wuhan was put on lockdown on January 23 in an attempt to stop the virus from spreading further, meaning many residents of the city who were travelling around the busy Lunar New Year period were unable to return to their homes and pets.

The mayor of Wuhan said five million people had left the city ahead of the festive period and many residents are also believed to be in quarantine, preventing them from returning home, and leaving pets trapped, according to Reuters.

A local animal rights volunteer known as "Lao Mao" or "old cat" has been contacted by worried pet owners over social media and has been tasked with entering pet owners houses in order to find their pets and free them, according to Reuters.

Lao Mao estimated up to 50,000 pets had been left at home in Wuhan, and told Reuters that without intervention the animals "may die of starvation in the coming days."

Du Fan, the president of the Wuhan Small Animal Protection Association said: "If we don't offer help, the dogs and cats would have decomposed at home before their owners got home," according to China Daily which cited Red Star news.

It is thought that the city has at least 600,000 to 800,000 pet cats and dogs, and more than 700 families have asked the association for help so far, according to China Daily.

Reports have also emerged of local government orders to cull street dogs in Beijing, Tianjin, Shandong, Heilongjiang, Hubei, Wuhan, Shanxi, and Shanghai over fears animals may be able to transmit the virus, according to Newsweek which cited a spokesperson from Humane Society International, an animal rights organization in the US.

According to the World Health Organization, which declared the coronavirus a global public health emergency last Thursday, there is no evidence to say that cats and dogs can be infected with the coronavirus.

Humane Society International has been assisting local groups in China in educating the public that pets do not pose a risk, and are assisting with pet rescue missions.

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