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Bipartisan lawmakers call for global 'wet markets' ban amid coronavirus crisis

Bipartisan lawmakers call for global 'wet markets' ban amid coronavirus crisis
© Greg Nash

A group of more than 60 bipartisan lawmakers on Wednesday called for an immediate global ban on live wildlife markets and the international trade of live wildlife over their supposed links to the novel coronavirus outbreak. 

In a letter spearheaded by Sens. Cory BookerCory BookerPolice reform talks hit familiar stumbling block Almost 20 advocacy groups team up to pressure Congress to pass health care bill for immigrants Biden adds pressure to congressional talks with self-imposed deadlines MORE (D-N.J.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham: 'I accept the results of the election' Juan Williams: The GOP's losing bet on Trump Pro-Trump lawyer Lin Wood causes headache for GOP in key S.C. race MORE (R-S.C.) as well as Reps. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulHouse lawmakers roll out bill to invest 0 million in state and local cybersecurity Asian American lawmakers say State's 'assignment restrictions' discriminate Senate Intelligence panel working on legislation around mandatory cyber breach notification MORE (R-Texas) and Mike QuigleyMichael (Mike) Bruce QuigleyBipartisan Senate bill introduced to give gyms B in relief Lobbying world Business groups issue both praise and criticism on COVID relief bill's passage MORE (D-Ill.), the lawmakers urged leaders of the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Organization for Animal Health and the United Nations to make the move "to protect public health."

"It is clear that to protect human health, these close and sustained interactions with wildlife must stop," the lawmakers wrote, pointing to studies that have linked wet markets where humans interact with live and dead animals as "prime transmission locations" for deadly pathogens.

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The 2003 SARS outbreak is also believed to be linked to a wet market.

The lawmakers argued that wet markets are particularly dangerous to public health because there are no "standardized sanitary or health inspection processes." And they can be the source of "highly contagious outbreaks of new and deadly diseases for which we have no natural immunity," they wrote. 

The prevalence of live wildlife markets in China and around the world has gained increased attention in recent months amid the outbreak of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. Experts believe the virus first appeared in a wet market in Wuhan, China, known for selling exotic game alongside more common animals. 

Bats are believed to be the initial host of COVID-19. The lawmakers wrote that five pandemics in just the last 45 years have been linked to the nocturnal mammal. 

The United Nations' acting head of biodiversity and the U.S. government's top infectious disease expert are among numerous other officials who have since called for the wildlife markets to shut down. 

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China in late February announced a ban on wildlife trade and consumption and wildlife markets. But the lawmakers argue the ban is susceptible to loopholes and must be stricter.  

"While China has banned the trade and consumption of wild animals in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, there are significant loopholes relating to the current legal trade of wildlife for medicinal purposes," they wrote. "China took similar steps after the 2003 SARS outbreak, but ultimately lifted the restrictions after the outbreak came under control and perceived risk decreased."

Graham and McCaul been leading the calls in the U.S. Congress for action on wildlife markets. Earlier this month, Graham sent a letter to the Chinese ambassador to the U.S. "urging the immediate closure of these wet markets for the safety of the world at large." 

McCaul has also sent a letter to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urging the organization to speak out against the health risks wet markets pose.

--This report was updated at 12:46 p.m.