WILD MEAT AND WET MARKETS: A GLOBAL DIALOGUE
Geography and You|Issue 146, 2020
Wet markets operate in most Asian countries including India. China reported its wet markets as the epicentre of the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan and also more recently in Beijing. These wet markets, a traditional part of popular local culture in Asian countries, are increasingly becoming a cause of concern for the international community and health practitioners across the globe. This article attempts to understand how global authorities and their Asian partners are looking to regulate these infamous wet markets to significantly lower the risk of viral and other pathogenic load from these unhygienic wet markets.
Sarada Subhash

The wet market of Wuhan in China is the suspected source of the Covid-19 pandemic. Wuhan, a sprawling business city in the Hubei Province of Central China is now infamous as the original epicentre of the Covid-19 outbreak. Media reported the case of a shrimp seller at Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Market, to be the ‘Patient Zero’, the first victim of Covid-19 pandemic. Following epidemiological investigations and extensive surveillance, the Chinese authorities shut the wet market temporarily, lending weight to suspicions surrounding wet markets’ link to the Covid-19 outbreak. Amidst the global furore against the wet markets, the media published reports that China reopened its wet markets in Wuhan as the number of Covid-19 cases dropped, strictly prohibiting media personnels from capturing any image of these markets. However, this is not the first time the poorly regulated wet markets in China are in the spotlight.

What are Wet Markets?

Traditional wet markets are a part of the ‘popular local culture’ in many Asian countries. The wet markets are places ‘where wild and often poached animals are packed together’ in filthy conditions for trade, thus becoming a ‘breeding ground for disease and an incubator for a multitude of viruses to evolve’ (White 2020). These wet markets offer the sale (legal and illegal) of a wide variety of ‘live fauna’ with culinary and medicinal properties. Illegal wildlife trade has been identified as the fourth largest illicit transnational activity in the world and the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime has estimated the global wildlife trafficking industry to be worth between 7 billion and 23 billion USD annually (Louis 2020).

Thus, humans dealing with these ‘live fauna’ come in contact not just with the domesticated/commonly known animals but also with a baffling range of unusual wild animals, whose zoonotic history and human-animal contact outcomes are poorly understood. Also, as pointed out by conservation specialists like Christian Walzer, executive director of the US based Wildlife Conservation Society, these wet markets often lead to ‘stashing and mixing of all these species together in a very small area, with secretions and urine mixed up together,’ a dangerously unhygienic practice that might lead to the transmission of the zoonotic viruses inhabiting in these animals...to the human beings dealing with them (White 2020).

Dan Wootton of the The Daily Examiner describes the gruesome reality of these wet markets operating in China, “A smorgasbord of dogs being boiled alive, bats served on sticks like lollipops, kittens slaughtered, rats fried and giant snakes carved up for human consumption, with the blood splattering everywhere,” chances of cross-contamination a high possibility (Wootton 2020). The Daily Examiner also reports the presence and sale of wolf cubs, turtles, crocodiles, hedgehogs, bears—an unusual and notorious stock for any market!

The Wet Market link—sars and Covid-19

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Wet markets operate in most Asian countries including India. China reported its wet markets as the epicentre of the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan and also more recently in Beijing. These wet markets, a traditional part of popular local culture in Asian countries, are increasingly becoming a cause of concern for the international community and health practitioners across the globe. This article attempts to understand how global authorities and their Asian partners are looking to regulate these infamous wet markets to significantly lower the risk of viral and other pathogenic load from these unhygienic wet markets.

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