With more than 360 people dead and over 17,500 people infected globally, the fear of catching the Wuhan novel coronavirus is causing widespread panic. While the jury is still out on whether it was bat or snake meat which led to the international health risk, Chinese citizens have turned against pets.

In the disease epicentre, thousands of pet owners are unable to get back to their pets due to transport restrictions. Many more are choosing to abandon their pets. The government order to cull all pets in China is a threat looming over pet owners and animal lovers.

Many citizens of Wuhan had left the city before the Chinese New Year, assuming that they would be back home in a few days. However, the homeowners are unable to return since the city was put under lockdown on January 23. At the same time, many pet owners were forced to leave their pets at home while they were taken to the hospital or quarantine.

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Dogs that were rescued by animal right activists are kept in a temporary shelter Kim Kyung Hoon/Reuters

A 43-year-old man, going by the name Lao Mao or "Old Cat," is working with other animal lovers to rescue pets that have been left behind. According to his estimate 50,000 pets remain locked in their homes, alone without food and water.

Lao Mao and other volunteers are forced to break into homes to rescue the starving animals. Lao Mao told Reuters that since January 25, they had rescued over 1,000 pets. The volunteers are trying to respond to calls from desperate pet owners who cannot get back home to their pets. At the same time, there are still numerous other uncared for pets whose owners are unable to get them help.

While locked in, pets are left to die in Wuhan. The Daily Mail reported that a litter of puppies was abandoned in the city of Zhengzhou, central China. Humane Society International (HSI) reported that the locals alerted an animal rescue organisation that took in most of the young pups. Two of the puppies are still missing.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that there is no proof of the virus being passed onto cats and dogs. However, the mass panic was caused when one of China's top experts for infectious diseases made a contradictory statement. The expert claimed that pets might need to be quarantined as well. Masks for dogs are being promoted as a precautionary measure.

Some lucky dogs and cats are being cared for by animal rescuers, but others faced horrific deaths. The Sun reported incidents of cats and dogs being thrown to their death from buildings. Heart-breaking images of a small dog lying dead in Tianjin City of Hebei Province surfaced, after it was thrown from an apartment.

Five cats with a similar fate were found in Shanghai.

With the spread of misinformation, many pets in China face an uncertain future.