China has approved the use of bear bile to treat coronavirus patients, angering activists and raising fears it could undermine efforts to stop the illegal animal trade which is blamed for the emergence of the new disease sweeping the globe.
The move comes just weeks after China banned the sale of wild animals for food, citing the risk of diseases spreading from animals to humans.
But the National Health Commission in March issued guidelines recommending the use of "Tan Re Qing" –- an injection that contains bear bile powder, goat horn and three other medicinal herbs –- to treat critically ill coronavirus patients.
It is one of six traditional Chinese medicine products included in the directive.
President Xi Jinping has been keen to promote traditional medicine, calling it a "treasure of Chinese civilisation" and saying it should be given as much weight as other treatments.
The active ingredient in bear bile, ursodeoxycholic acid, is used to dissolve gallstones and treat liver disease but has no proven effectiveness in treating COVID-19.
China has used both traditional and Western medicine in its battle against the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 3,000 and infected more than 82,000.
But activists say greenlighting a treatment that uses an animal product is "both tragic and ironic" given that the origin of the deadly coronavirus is linked to the trade and consumption of wild animals.