China announced a temporary nationwide ban on the trade of wild animals on Sunday for the duration of the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak.
In a joint statement released by the country’s market regulator, agriculture ministry and forestry bureau, the sale of wildlife in markets, supermarkets, restaurants and e-commerce platforms has been banned with immediate effect.
The transport of wild animals has also been barred and any place that breeds wildlife will need to take steps to isolate the animals.
Authorities also called on citizens to call the national consumer hotline at 12315 to report any instance of wrongdoing.
Local departments have also been ordered to step up checks and punish all businesses that have been found to break the rules.
Netizens demand a permanent solution
Chinese netizens applauded the government’s move but say the stopgap measure does not quite go far enough.
“I thought this was going to be a permanent ban, but when I looked closer, WTF,” wrote a 26-year-old man from Fujian. “What use is it it to ban wildlife trade just for the duration of the outbreak? Now is not the time for semantic games. Maybe some high-ranking officials like to eat wildlife themselves and therefore can’t bring themselves to ban it outright.”
“It’s all too late,” said a 64-year-old man working in the legal sector in Nantong, Jiangsu province. “We should have done this way back in 2003 right after SARS. The price we’re paying for not learning that lesson is way too high.”
Why a crackdown on wildlife trade is crucial
Scientists say that markets where multiple species of wildlife are kept together in the same space present fertile ground for dangerous viruses to jump from one species to another, mutating along the way and eventually finding a human host.
The 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) was traced to a wild market in Guangzhou where civets were kept.
Scientists believe the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak originated in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market where cats, dogs, snakes, turtles, rabbit, monkeys and civets were reportedly sold and prepared for consumption in highly unhygienic conditions.
The market was shut down early January after a number of people working at the market came down with pneumonia.
On Sunday, a plea by Shijiazhuang-based kidney specialist Dr. Zhang Lei to stop eating wildlife went viral on Sina Weibo, gaining over 100,000 shares in less than a day.
“All these wild animals that you thought are full of nutrition are actually full of viruses,” he wrote. “Not only do they taste not that great, they are really downright toxic.”
In most developed countries, the slaughter of animals is only legal in licensed abbatoirs that meet stringent public health regulations and there are strict rules to follow in the destruction of sick animals and the disposal of carcasses and animal waste.
As of Jan 26, 9.30pm, the Wuhan coronavirus epidemic has claimed 56 lives and infected 2,074.