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More protected than you human plebs still scrambling to find face masks. (Picture: 里神楽 via Weibo)

Viral meme of mask-wearing cat turns into a toy figure in coronavirus-hit China

Garage kit artists in Japan and China say they’re teaming up to raise money for charities in Wuhan

This article originally appeared on ABACUS
The internet is a treasure trove of animal memes, but one probably resonates more than the others now in coronavirus-hit China. A photo of a mask-wearing cat has been making the rounds on Weibo recently, garnering laughs and tugging at heartstrings far and wide.

Now Chinese netizens have a chance to own their own copy of the trending feline -- in the form of a toy figure.

More protected than you human plebs still scrambling to find face masks. (Picture: 里神楽 via Weibo)
The idea was the brainchild of Japanese hobbyist Meetissai, who specializes in transforming funny animal pictures scoured from the web into what’s known as garage kits: Homemade resin model figures. Last week, Meetissai tweeted her new creation -- a 3D incarnation of the famous health-conscious kitty.
Meetissai’s tweet went viral almost instantly, and it’s not hard to see why it might have struck a chord. Orders for masks have risen sharply in parts of Asia, the US and Europe as people scramble for supplies to protect themselves from the new virus. In China, local authorities have even taken to flying drones over cities to spot and warn citizens who are out and about without wearing a mask.
Chinese garage kit artist Animal Kingdom, who came across Meetissai’s tweet, saw an opportunity. The two agreed to team up to produce more hand-made cat figures and sell them in China. Animal Kingdom says all proceeds from the country will go to a charity in Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. A store on Alibaba’s shopping site Taobao started taking preorders Wednesday.

(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba.)

“This outbreak is really serious and we hope that this product can be a memento for everyone,” Animal Kingdom told Abacus. “We hope that when people see it, they’ll remember not to kill wild animals anymore.”

The consumption of wildlife in China, a centuries-old practice, has been blamed for the current outbreak. Many initial infections were traced back to a seafood market in Wuhan that also sold exotic animals such as snakes and civets. The Chinese government is now considering a ban on breeding and eating wild animals.
Animal Kingdom and Meetissai aren’t the only ones to find creative inspiration amid one of China’s deadliest disease outbreak since the 2003 Sars epidemic. Chinese Minecraft players have meticulously recreated two real-life hospitals in the sandbox game. The buildings were famously erected in Wuhan in a matter of days to cope with the surge in patients. The Minecraft team in China also built a virtual coronavirus information center to educate gamers.

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