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Coronavirus Outbreak Triggers Renewed Calls to End Wildlife Trade in China

The move is the latest measure to make public safety a top priority in a bid to contain the virus.

Conservationists are welcoming news that the Chinese Government has temporarily banned the sale of wildlife in markets, restaurants, and over e-commerce as part of an effort to contain the Coronavirus outbreak, which has already claimed 56 lives.

The rising death toll and increasingly rapid spread of the new coronavirus have prompted China’s President Xi Jinping to declare the outbreak a “grave” situation. He has also said public safety is the government’s top priority. This comes as more cities lock down public transportation.

Defined as a zoonotic disease since it’s normally relegated to wildlife, it may have originated from a snake and has been traced to a market in the city of Wuhan known for selling wild animals for consumption, including turtles, rats, snakes, hedgehogs, and marmots.

Demand for wild animals in Asia, especially China, is hastening the extinction of many species, on top of posing a perennial health threat that authorities have failed to address despite growing risks of a global pandemic fully.

“The Chinese government’s announcement on January 26th to temporarily ban the sale of wildlife in markets, restaurants and over e-commerce needs to be permanent,” Christian Walzer, a chief global veterinarian for Wildlife Conservation Society, said in a press release. “The banning of such sales will help end the possibility of future outbreaks of zoonotic diseases, such as the Wuhan coronavirus. We learned this lesson with the outbreak of another zoonotic disease, SARS, in 2002. The pattern will keep repeating itself until we ban, not only in China but in other countries, the sale of wildlife, specifically for food and in food markets.”

A group of 19 prominent researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and the nation’s top universities are calling for the government in China to crack down on wildlife markets such as the one at the center of the Wuhan outbreak.

Illegal trade flourishes in “loopholes” of the legal wildlife trade in China and increases the probability of an outbreak, the group wrote in an open letter posted on Weibo. “This is the hidden danger for the trade and consumption” of wild animals, the letter read. They advocate vastly increasing on-site inspections and government oversight of all wildlife markets.

Zoonotic diseases, or those contracted by humans that originated in other species, account for a large share of human infectious illnesses. Not all of them come from the wildlife trade: rabies is endemic across many species and one of the biggest causes of death in the developing world. But mixing species of wild animals increases the risk of diseases mutating and growing more virulent as they spread in unregulated markets, experts say.

Biodiversity is an issue that is garnering more attention in China of late as the country prepares to host the 2020 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), a major conservation congress that aims to curb the current extinction crisis, in October.

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