Despite Viruses, Animal Markets Should Not Close


LONDON (AP) – The World Health Organization said on Friday that although an animal market in the Chinese city of Wuhan almost certainly played a significant role in the emergence of the new coronavirus, it does not recommend that such markets be closed globally.

In a meeting with the press, WHO food safety and animal disease expert Peter Ben Embarek said that live animal markets are crucial to providing food and livelihoods for millions of people worldwide and that authorities must focus improving them rather than eliminating them — although they can sometimes spark epidemics in humans.

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“Food safety in those places is very difficult and therefore it is not surprising that we sometimes have such events within the markets,” said Ben Embarek.

He said that to reduce the risk of animal-to-human transmission in those often crowded markets, hygiene and food safety standards can be improved, even with the separation of live animals and people. He added that it is not yet clear whether the market in Wuhan linked to the first dozen coronavirus cases was the source of the virus or only played a role in its spread.

Ben Embarek said China is still investigating to try to determine the precise animal origin from which COVID-19 passed into humans, but that studies have shown that other animals are susceptible to the disease, such as cats, tigers, ferrets and dogs. Identifying other vulnerable species will help prevent future outbreaks. “We don’t want to create a reserve in animals that could continue to create infections in humans,” he said.

Ben Embarek said it would take a long time to try to identify the original source of the new coronavirus, because extensive studies, including detailed interviews with many of those infected in the early stages of the outbreak, are needed to pinpoint their interactions with animals before they get sick. Scientists will then have to take samples from animals to find a correspondence with the coronavirus that circulates among humans.

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