The Chinese city of Shenzhen has put forward a groundbreaking proposal to ban the consumption of dogs and cats, as well as several wild animals, as the coronavirus crisis continues to make headlines around the world.

The coronavirus outbreak, which has killed more than 2,700 people and sickened more than 80,000 around the world, has not been linked in any way to dogs and cats. But Shenzhen city officials included these companion animals in the proposed ban in recognition of the special status they occupy in Chinese hearts and homes, as pets. With the ban, they said, they sought to “further satisfy the daily needs of people” by including animal species that are not wildlife.

According to media reports, officials described the regulation as the “universal civilization requirement of a modern society.”

If successful, the ban on dog and cat meat would be the first of its kind ever enacted in the country, where an estimated 10 million dogs and four million cats are consumed each year. It would be a major victory for companion animal lovers in China who have been fighting to end the deeply entrenched dog and cat meat trade there. Shenzhen is an economic powerhouse and China’s fifth largest city, with a population of nearly 13 million, and such a ban would carry great impact, both in terms of the number of people it would cover and the strong message of compassion it sends to the rest of the nation

The proposal now awaits feedback from the public before it can become law.

China’s dog meat trade, which Humane Society International has been fighting for 12 years now working with activists on the ground, has attracted global censure. Each year, the world watches with horror as dogs and cats are ​killed for human consumption at the Yulin dog meat festival, but this same cruelty takes place year-round across China. Dogs trapped in this trade are often stolen pets, and they are transported over long distances in violation of the country’s live animal transport regulations. The trade also poses a serious public health threat to the nation’s 1.4 billion people: China has the world’s second largest number of humans infected with rabies.

In addition to dogs and cats, the ban in Shenzhen would cover a number of wild animal species, including snakes, frogs and turtles. The proposal does allow for the consumption of swallows' nests, which are harvested by driving away mother swallows, leaving them with no place to lay eggs and nurse their babies. This is an extremely cruel practice and we urge Shenzhen officials to include swallows' nests in their ban as well.

Shenzhen is already covered by the emergency measure China introduced earlier this week banning the trade in wild animals for food. But we are heartened to see city officials go above and beyond the national ban by extending it to ​dogs and cats. We commend Shenzhen authorities for taking this progressive step and we hope the proposal will be promptly adopted. We also urge the National People's Congress, China’s ​national legislature, to revise its now toothless wildlife protection law and to get serious about ending the trade in dog and cat meat.

The world is watching, and waiting, and there is more at stake now than ever.