The World Health Organization has called for a ban on the sale of live wild mammals in food markets to help protect against future pandemics.
It comes after a joint WHO-Chinese study into the origins of Covid published last month said that markets in Wuhan selling both live and dead animals, including wild mammals, were a likely source of the current pandemic.
The WHO had previously recommended that so-called ‘wet markets’ remain fully open to secure food supplies and jobs, but that conditions should be improved.
‘The guidance calls on countries to suspend the sale of captured live wild mammals in food markets as an emergency measure,’ the WHO said.
‘Animals, particularly wild animals, are the source of more than 70 percent of all emerging infectious diseases in humans, many of which are caused by novel viruses,’
‘Wild mammals, in particular, pose a risk for the emergence of new diseases,’ it said.
‘Traditional markets, where live animals are held, slaughtered and dressed, pose a particular risk for pathogen transmission to workers and customers alike,’ said the guidance.
It also called on governments to close sections of food markets selling live wild mammals unless adequate risk assessments were in place.
The WHO has focused on food markets as a likely source of the pandemic following a visit by its experts to Wuhan last year, where they all-but ruled out the possibility the disease escaped from a lab based on data given to them by the Chinese.
Instead, they concluded that an animal was where Covid originated – most likely a bat – passed the disease on to an intermediary species.
While that process may have taken place in China, the report’s authors refused to rule out the possibility that the infection took place overseas and the infected animal was then imported into the country.
The intermediary animal then likely infected humans, the authors say, with a probable first site of infection being the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan where an early cluster of cases was reported.
Researchers said the market did not officially sell live mammals, but that media reports and undercover footage from 2014 suggests there may have been an illicit trade in them taking place there.
The WHO’s report has proved highly controversial, not least because it has been used by Beijing to push the narrative that Covid started elsewhere – at least partially absolving it of responsibility for a pandemic that has crippled the globe.
Washington has been particularly vocal in its criticisms, with members of the old Trump administration giving full-throated support to the lab leak theory.
The Biden administration has been less vocal in saying what they think the source of the virus was, but have pushed for further study into its origins.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Sunday accused China of not being transparent enough with information on Covid, particularly in the early stages of the pandemic, and called for a ‘more thorough’ investigation of the virus’s origins.
‘We need to get to the bottom of this,’ he said.
‘We need to do that precisely so we fully understand what happened, in order to have the best shot possible preventing it from happening again.’
Tedros Ghebreyesus, the director general of WHO who was not involved with the report, also criticised its lack of investigation into the lab-leak theory – saying he does not ‘believe that this assessment was extensive enough.’
‘This [theory] requires further investigation, potentially with additional missions involving specialist experts, which I am ready to deploy,’ he said.
Most experts believe that Covid emerged in Hubei province, China, some time between November and December 2019 before spreading to the rest of the world – where it has since caused more than 137million infections.
But intriguing evidence from Italy suggests the virus could have been circulating there as early as September 2019, while wastewater samples collected in Spain suggest the presence of the virus even earlier – in March that year.
While scientists are skeptical of those findings, the WHO report also does not rule out the possibility that Covid was circulating in China earlier than the first official cases in December 2019 and either went undetected or unreported.
So far, no study has managed to uncover so-called ‘patient zero’ – the first person to have caught Covid – meaning the true origins of the pandemic remain a mystery.
Advertise with the mоѕt vіѕіtеd nеwѕ ѕіtе іn Antigua!
We offer fully customizable and flexible digital marketing packages.
Contact us at [email protected]