Story at a glance
- Some of the first COVID-19 patients in Wuhan, China, reported visiting the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market.
- While a definitive link has not yet been established, many are calling for the closure of these markets.
- Animal rights activists have long opposed wet markets and all live animal markets.
A wet market is a marketplace selling fresh meat, fish, produce and other perishable goods. There are tens of thousands of these in countries across the world, including the United States. But after several of the first COVID-19 patients reported visiting the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China, these markets are under increased scrutiny.
The Huanan market was closed on Jan. 1, and China banned the trade and consumption of wild animals at the end of January. But as the number of new cases in China drops each day, some markets are reopening, leading to calls from public health officials to keep them shut.
There is still no proven link between COVID-19 and these markets. The novel coronavirus originated in bats, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which says the similarity between the virus in U.S. and Chinese patients suggests the virus came from a single animal reservoir.
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But it is still unclear whether that reservoir was sold at the Huanan market, or any wet market at all. One paper by Chinese researchers notes the first COVID-19 patient had no reported link to the seafood market, in addition to 12 more of the first 41 hospitalized patients. Others have suggested that the virus could have been brought into the market by someone who had contracted it elsewhere and spread from there.
Meanwhile, in the United States, wet markets are still operating. In New York City, where there have been almost 140,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, there are about 80 wet markets, according to Slaughter Free NYC. Now animal rights activists are joining the chorus of voices calling for the markets to be closed.
In an op-ed for the Washington Post, actors Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix call for the closing of all live-animal markets in the United States, as well as what the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls “concentrated animal feeding operations.”
"The unsanitary living conditions inside CAFOS weaken animals’ immune systems and increase their susceptibility to infection and disease. The factory farms’ response has been to pump the animals full of antibiotics that make their way into our food supply and onto our dinner plates, systematically fostering in humans a lethal resistance to the medicines that once quelled everyday infections," write Mara and Phoenix. "Such practices have brought humanity to the point that the WHO now estimates that more than half of all human diseases emanate from animals."
Animal activists have long argued for the closure of live animal markets, in addition to "concentrated animal feeding operations" throughout the South and Midwest that supply much of the country's animal products. Their efforts, however, are magnified with the growing concern over public health issues during this pandemic.
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