China is mulling the easing of restrictions on the wildlife ban that would allow the country's fur industry to operate freely amid concerns over the spread of the deadly viruses like coronavirus through animals crowded together in confined, unhygienic conditions.

Ministry seeks to reclassify mink, raccoons and foxes

Minks
An American mink. Wikimedia Commons

China's agriculture ministry has proposed to reclassify mink, raccoons, silver foxes and blue foxes as domestic livestock, rather than wild animals, as they are identified now, according to The Independent. The country has placed a ban on the trade of wild animals in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

China breeds and kills more than 50 million animals on fur farms every year, according to the Humane Society International (HIS). Animal rights activists are up in arms over the move and claim it is an attempt to protect the fur industry from growing international pressure to end farming of wild animals because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Minks, foxes known to be hosts of coronaviruses

HSI has penned a letter to President Xi Jinping, objecting the decision, which is currently in its consultation stage. The letter points out that mink were recently found to be infected with COVID-19 at fur farms in the Netherlands, and raccoons tested positive for SARS, a type of coronavirus, in a wildlife market in Shenzhen, China.

It adds that these animals are packed together in tight, unhygienic, cruel and stressful conditions in fur farms, making them hotbeds for deadly viruses and bacteria.

wildlife market in China
A wildlife market in China's Hunan province. Wikimedia Commons / Ye Wei

"The conditions on China's fur farms are very similar to conditions observed in wildlife markets, and of course fur-bearing animals are also traded in wildlife markets," Dr. Teresa Telecky, HSI vice-president of wildlife said. "In addition, there's clear evidence that some of these species can act as intermediate hosts of viruses, such as COVID-19, which is why we're urging governments around the world to stop trading in wildlife," she added.

Outrage on social media

The proposal to rebrand minks, foxes and raccoons as domestic livestock has also sparked outrage on social media, with netizens calling out China not only for animal cruelty but also for putting the world at another risk of a viral outbreak like coronavirus, which has so far infected more than 4 million people and claimed over 283,000 lives around the world.

"Grotesque cruelty to innocent animals. Some are even skinned alive," one user said in reply to The Independent writer Jane Dalton's tweet about the article. "The rest of the world should do everything it can to put a stop to this and the disgusting "Wet Markets. "

"China needs to stop with the evil animal trade. It's a disease plague they've brought upon themselves," commented another. "We need to stay away from them."

"Seriously what is wrong with that nation, their abuse of all animals is utterly disgusting & even after spreading many viruses they still don't get it," tweeted another angry netizen. "We all seriously need to boycott buying anything "made in China."