China’s controversial dog meat festival has kicked off despite calls from the government to improve animal welfare in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Yulin Festival is a 10-day celebration in the southwestern city of Yulin. Thousands of people flock to the city to celebrate the event, but attendance this year plummeted and several activist groups are hoping for this event to be the last.

“I do hope Yulin will change not only for the sake of the animals but also for the health and safety of its people,” Peter Li, China policy specialist with the animal rights group Humane Society International, told the New York Post.

“Allowing mass gatherings to trade in and consume dog meat in crowded markets and restaurants in the name of a festival poses a significant public health risk,” he added.

The coronavirus was believed to have originated from bats consumed by humans in a wild animal market in Wuhan.

Because of this, the country imposed a ban on wildlife consumption or selling of wildlife, such as bats and snakes, in late February this year. China’s agriculture ministry moved to classify dogs as pets rather than livestock

“From what we understand from our conversations with meat sellers, leaders have said the consumption of dog meat won’t be allowed in future,” Zhang Quianqian, an animal rights activist, told The New York Post. “But banning dog meat consumption is going to be hard and will take some time.”

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