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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China coronavirus outbreak spreads across regions
A traveler wears a face mask as he sits in a waiting room at the Beijing West Railway Station in Beijing, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A fourth person has died in an outbreak of a new coronavirus in China, authorities said Tuesday, as more places stepped up medical screening of travelers from the country as it enters its busiest travel period. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
A girl wearing a face mask sits among suitcases at Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Face masks sold out and temperature checks at airports and train stations became the new norm as China strove Tuesday to control the outbreak of a new coronavirus that has reached four other countries and territories and threatens to spread further during the Lunar New Year travel rush. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Travelers wearing face masks gather at Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Face masks sold out and temperature checks at airports and train stations became the new norm as China strove Tuesday to control the outbreak of a new coronavirus that has reached four other countries and territories and threatens to spread further during the Lunar New Year travel rush. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Staff in biohazard suits hold a metal stretcher by the in-patient department of Wuhan Medical Treatment Center, where some infected with a novel coronavirus are being treated, in Wuhan, China, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Heightened precautions were being taken in China and elsewhere Tuesday as governments strove to control the outbreak of the coronavirus, which threatens to grow during the Lunar New Year travel rush. (AP Photo/Dake Kang)
Peatones con máscaras de protección en una zona comercial de Tokio, el jueves 16 de enero de 2020. (AP Foto/Eugene Hoshiko)
Health workers wear protective gear Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2003, in Ward E3 of the Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital in Hong Kong's New Territories, where 24 patients were quarantined after seven of its health workers developed flu-like symptoms, although none have tested positive for SARS. According to a hospital spokesperson five nurses and two health care assistants working in the hospital's Ward E3 developed symptoms such as coughs, sore throats and fevers on Friday. Hong Kong's health chief, Dr.Yeoh Eng-kiong, said that preliminary test results showed patients' samples did not contain coronavirus that causes SARS and researchers are trying to identify the cause of the illness. (AP Photo/Anat Givon)
WUHAN, CHINA - JANUARY 21 2020: Workers monitor screens for fever signs on passengers detected by infrared detectors at Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A new type of coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in the city.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
WUHAN, CHINA - JANUARY 21 2020: Passengers wearing protective masks walk inside Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A new type of coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in the city.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
WUHAN, CHINA - JANUARY 21 2020: Passengers wearing protective masks walk outside Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A new type of coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in the city.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
WUHAN, CHINA - JANUARY 21 2020: Passengers wearing protective masks walk inside Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A new type of coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in the city.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - JANUARY 21: Chinese travellers wear protective masks as they arrive to board trains at Beijing Railway station before the annual Spring Festival on January 21, 2020 in Beijing, China. The number of cases of a deadly new coronavirus rose to nearly 300 in mainland China Tuesday as health officials stepped up efforts to contain the spread of the pneumonia-like disease which medicals experts confirmed can be passed from human to human. The number of those who have died from the virus in China climbed to six on Tuesday and cases have been reported in other parts of Asia including in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
YICHANG, CHINA - JANUARY 21 2020: Travelers wearing protective masks walk outside a railway station in Yichang in central China's Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. China has stepped up the measures to control the spread of the new coronavirus that has infected hundreds of people in China.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - JANUARY 21: A Chinese girl wears a protective mask as her mother pushes her on a suitcase to board a train at Beijing Railway station before the annual Spring Festival on January 21, 2020 in Beijing, China. The number of cases of a deadly new coronavirus rose to nearly 300 in mainland China Tuesday as health officials stepped up efforts to contain the spread of the pneumonia-like disease which medicals experts confirmed can be passed from human to human. The number of those who have died from the virus in China climbed to six on Tuesday and cases have been reported in other parts of Asia including in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
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