Wet markets in Wuhan, the city where the coronavirus outbreak first emerged, have begun to reopen following the lifting of lockdown restrictions. This move comes despite the virus being linked to the city’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market.
But WHO, as well as other public health organisations and campaigners, have said the markets pose a “real danger” as pathogens can spread easily and quickly from animals to humans.
Dr David Nabarro, a WHO special envoy on Covid-19 and special representative of the United Nations secretary general for food security and nutrition, said the world health body “pleads with governments and just about everybody” to be respectful of how viruses from the animal kingdom are rife.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Dr Nabarro said while WHO is not able to tell governments what to do, their advice is to close wet markets.
He replied: “You know how WHO and other parts of the international system work – we don’t have the capacity to police the world. Instead, what we have to do is offer advice and guidance, and there’s very clear advice from the Food and Agriculture Organisation and WHO that said there are real dangers in these kinds of environments.
“75 per cent of emerging infections come from the animal kingdom. It’s partly the markets, but it’s also other places where humans and animals are in close contact. Just make absolutely certain that you’re not creating opportunities for viral spread,” added Dr Nabarro.
Traders sell fresh produce, fruit and vegetables in wet markets alongside wild and domestic animals mainly for consumption in wet markets, which are common in China, South Korea and southeast Asia. Not all wet markets sell exotic meats, but poor legal controls allow for the controversial product to enter the supply chain.
Last week, over 200 conservation groups across the world signed an open letter calling on WHO to force the closure of markets where wild meat is sold for consumption.
The joint letter calls on WHO to recommend to governments that they bring permanent bans to live wildlife markets and to exclude the use of wildlife from the organisation’s definition and endorsement of traditional medicine.
Dr Nabarro added: “We have similar concerns about bushmeat – be very very careful when you’re basically eating wild animal meat or killing wild animals. All these things are higher risk and we have to be on high alert these days for these problems.”
The Independent is calling for global action to impose tighter restrictions surrounding the trade of wild animals, in order to help reduce the risk of diseases like coronavirus from spreading.
There is some indication that Chinese authorities are heeding calls for more restrictions. Last month, Beijing banned the trade and consumption of non-aquatic wild animals, and shut down 20,000 farms raising animals such as peacocks, porcupines and ostriches.
Shenzhen became the first Chinese city to ban the sale and consumption of dog and cat meat, with central authorities declaring that dogs are companions and not for consumption.
Jinfeng Zhou, secretary general of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation, told The Guardian that a universal closure of wildlife markets was justified.
However, the use of wild animal meat or byproducts are still being approved for use in medication and signs that regional Chinese authorities are not enforcing the recent ban on the sale of wild animals have emerged.
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