Despite the huge health risks they create, these practices are deeply embedded in rural Chinese life.
The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, in effect the executive committee of the Chinese Communist Party, in late February issued an edict banning the country’s “wet markets,” including those in Wuhan, the source of the current COVID-19 outbreak. The statement notes that “it is necessary to strengthen market supervision, resolutely ban and severely crack down on illegal wildlife markets and trade, and control major public health risks from the source.” The Straits Times of Singapore has reported that eight laws have been passed in the last week. We have no details on the contents of the legislation. It’s too soon to know, though, whether we have been down this road before.
After the SARS outbreak in 2003, which was traced to a wet market in the southern Guangdong Province, a temporary ban on wet markets and the wild-animal industry were put in place. In July of that year, the World Health Organization declared the SARS virus contained, and in August the Chinese government lifted the ban.
Wet markets are found the world over, typically open-air sites selling fresh meat, seafood, and produce. The meats often are butchered and trimmed on-site. Markets in China have come in for justifiable condemnation because of the way they’ve evolved, commingling traditional livestock with a wide variety of wild animals, including exotic and endangered species. Many are quite unsanitary, with blood, entrails, excrement, and other waste creating the conditions for disease that migrates from animals to people through virus, bacteria, and other forms of transmission. Such “zoonotic diseases” that have emerged from China and other regions of the world include Ebola, HIV, bird flu, swine flu, and SARS. READ MORE