Why Shutting Chinese Wet Market Could Be A Colossal Oversight

Chinese Wet Market, Chinese scientists have traced the potential source of the genesis of the novel coronavirus to Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, which 27 of the initial cluster of 41 admitted hospital patients (but not the first recorded patient) had visited. The vendors of the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market lawfully sold live animals with hundreds of others in close quarters. Come January 1, Wuhan had closed and disinfected the market, and China had issued a temporary ban on all trade in wild animal products on January 22.


The term ‘wet market’ originated in Hong Kong and Singapore English to distinguish markets selling fresh meat, grocery, and produce from “dry” markets selling packaged, non-perishable goods such as grain or household products. They are called wet markets owing to the fact that the floors in these markets are cleaned by hosing them down with water after vendors wash vegetables or clean fish. Similar markets exist all over the world.

Wet markets that deal in live animals risk creating such hazardous conditions where viruses can spread from animals to humans, due to the close quarters and potentially unsanitary procedures — especially, if they keep wild or rare animals, experts deem.

The 2003 SARS epidemic, for instance, was linked to the peddling of civet cats in Guangdong province.

However, most wet markets are not virus Petri-dishes smeared with exotic animals ready to be culled. They are but places to go to buy fresh and affordable food, such as chicken, pork, fish, and vegetables, for a large proportion of people in China and across Asia.

Wet markets are problematic for a plethora of reasons. Animals in most wet markets are sold live or butchered on the spot. These markets often have different kinds of animals including domestic, sea & wild animals. The animals are confined in closed cages barring even slight movements. Their bodily fluids flow freely and intermix. Further, there is no check if the animals brought to these markets are diseased.


According to the Biologist Kevin Olival, vice president for research at EcoHealth Alliance said that the stress of captivity in these crowded markets enfeebles the animals’ immune systems and creates an environment where viruses from different species can mingle, swap bits of genetic material and spread from one species to another. In such a case, a new strain of an animal virus occasionally gets a crevice in humans.

Amidst a global debate on wet markets, questions are emerging whether such markets should be authorized to function at the cost of wildlife conservation & human health. Chinese authorities are receiving calls to do more to regulate or even ban the sale of wildlife.

The United Nations’ Biodiversity Chief Elizabeth Mrema, said that it would be good to ban the live animal markets but there must be alternatives in place or it could result in the operation of illegal animal trade. Wet markets form a vital part of the Chinese market and of Chinese social life. A permanent shutdown of such markets is not only going to be impossible but will also be destructive for urban food security in China as they play such a pivotal role in ensuring urban residents’ access to affordable and healthy food thus, making it potentially harmful to public health. It would deprive the consumers of the food sector that accounts for 30-59% of their food supplies. Due to a considerable number of farmers, traders and consumers involved, the extermination of wet markets is also likely to lead to an explosion of an uncontrollable black market, as it did when such a ban was attempted in 2003, in response to SARS, and later, in 2013-14, in response to avian influenza H7N9.


This would pose an enormous risk to public and global health than the legal and regulated live animal markets in China today. What the Chinese wet markets necessitate is more scientific and evidence-based regulation, rather than being abrogated and, consequentially, being driven underground. All such considerations must be kept in mind while deciding the future of wet markets.

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