Wet markets in China still operating despite coronavirus outbreak - report

They have come under closer scrutiny in recent weeks after the coronavirus outbreak was linked to a seafood market in Wuhan, China.

A vendor works at a wet market in China (photo credit: REUTERS)
A vendor works at a wet market in China
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Australian-based news outlet news.com.au has reported that thousands have begun flocking back to wet markets across China in places such as Dongguan and Guilin, despite these markets being considered ground zero for coronavirus outbreaks.
Considering the decline in new coronavirus cases throughout the country, authorities have begun reopening businesses in an attempt to heal the world's second largest economy.
The city of Wuhan, at the center of the outbreak, reported no new cases for a sixth day, as businesses reopened and residents set about reclaiming a more normal life after a lockdown for almost two months.
“The markets have gone back to operating in exactly the same way as they did before coronavirus,” according to a Daily Mail correspondent who visited the market told the publication. “The only difference is that security guards try to stop anyone taking pictures, which would never have happened before.”
They have come under closer scrutiny in recent months after the coronavirus outbreak was linked to a seafood market in Wuhan, China.
That market was shut down, and authorities said they would ban illegal wildlife trade and tighten supervision of wet markets, as a debate raged on social media on whether all wet markets should be closed.
“The origin of the new coronavirus is the wildlife sold illegally in a Wuhan seafood market,” Gao Fu, director of China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told a briefing.
China’s markets, where wild and often poached animals are packed together, have been described as a breeding ground for disease and an incubator for a multitude of viruses to evolve and jump the species barrier to humans.
Wet markets, which are a series of stalls that sell fresh vegetables and fruits, live fish, chickens and other meats, are named after the melting of ice used to preserve goods and the washing of floors to clean blood and entrails.
Conservationists and health experts have long denounced the trade in wildlife for its impact on biodiversity and the potential for spreading disease in markets.
“The animal welfare part of this is obvious, but much more hidden is this stashing and mixing of all these species together in a very small area, with secretions and urine mixed up together,” said Christian Walzer, executive director of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society.
However, wet markets have been a staple in Chinese culture since the late 1970s - when large portions of the population began facing famine, the communist Chinese government introduced reforms so that people may harvest exotic wildlife for consumption in an attempt to combat the food shortages.
“Wet markets are part of the local culture in Asia, as people believe that meat and produce sold there is fresher and cheaper than in modern retail outlets,” said Pavida Pananond, an associate professor of international business at Thammasat University in Bangkok.
Across Asia, governments here keen to modernize their cities increasingly view street vendors and informal markets as a hindrance, and as usurpers of public spaces meant for formal businesses and wealthy residents.
From Bangkok to Manila, authorities are pushing vendors into designated zones and imposing restrictions on informal markets.
The 2002-03 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which started in China and killed about 800 people, was believed to have emerged from wet markets.
These traditional markets are a lifeline for millions of small farmers, vendors and small businesses said Pavida, adding that shuttering them would have a significant economic and cultural impact on poorer consumers.
“It will be difficult to completely replace them as they serve consumers at the lower end of purchasing power, not to mention their cultural preference,” she said.
Zachary Keyser contributed to this report.