Both SARS and Covid-19 are two potentially life threatening viral infections in the “coronavirus” family.
These coronaviruses can jump across species from mammal to mammal including humans. Both viruses have emanated from animals in China’s wet markets. These wet markets can be best described as markets selling fresh products including fruit, meat and fish as opposed to dry goods like tinned and packaged produce. Wild and domestic animals are usually freshly slaughtered and sold in wet markets. It is said that the word ‘wet’ is used to describe the prolific amount of water everywhere in the market. It’s necessary to hose down the stalls and for other things like filling tubs with water for live fish.
In 2002 the SARS virus was traced back to a wet market in Foshan, Guangdong province.
Traces of the virus was found in farmed civet cats for sale in the market. The virus had probably been passed on to them by bats. Civets were banned and culled in large numbers after it was discovered they had likely transferred the virus to humans. In 2019, the Covid-19 virus was detected in Huanan Market in Wuhan. A notorious wet market for wildlife. Later evidence emerged that the virus had gone from a bat to a pangolin before infecting a human. When the virus first began to spread in Wuhan, the Chinese counted 41 people affected of which 27 had been to this market. It wasn’t conclusive evidence but credible enough for Chinese officials to close down the market. At the time of writing, China has declared 3,136 deaths and the rest of the world has over 1,000 deaths, from Corvid-19.
Many of the viruses that can actually make humans sick or can cause them to die can be traced back to certain bat species.
These flying mammals can be reservoir hosts for viruses that can cross species barriers and infect humans and other mammals. Both the SARS virus and the Corvid-19 virus have been linked to bats. The rabies virus originates in bats and the Ebola virus is likely to have come from bats too. Apparently bats have a fierce immune response to viruses which causes viruses to replicate faster. When they cross over to mammals, such as humans with average immune systems, they can inflict deadly havoc. In the wet markets of China, cages containing animals are stacked on top of each other. This leads to various liquids including excrement, blood and pus, running down through the cages with animals in the bottom cages getting soaked. This helps a virus to jump from one animal to another. When that infected animal comes in contact with a human then the virus can potentially affect them and cause an outbreak. There are hundreds of these wet markets across mainland China which offer a wide range of exotic animals for various purposes.
Back in the 1970s China’s communist regime was failing to feed its population of 900 million people.
There was widespread famine across the country that caused the death of 36 million Chinese. In 1978 the Chinese government gave up its control of food production and encouraged farmers to provide food for the nation. Larger farms took on the production of chickens and pigs whilst smaller farms took to catching and raising wild animals to feed themselves and sell some of the produce. It began with peasants keeping animals in their back yards and this was how the wildlife industry was born. Wildlife was written in law as ‘natural resources’ which meant it was something that could be used for human benefit. The law encouraged the breeding of wildlife and this legal wildlife farming started to boom. At the same time it helped to develop cover for illegal wildlife operations for raising tigers, rhinos and pangolins. By 2000 China was teeming with farmed wildlife animals and then there was an outbreak of the SARS virus in 2002 killing over 800 people worldwide. As already stated, the virus was traced to a wet market in Foshan, Guangdong province and Chinese officials quickly shut down the market. Then a few months later China lifted the ban on Civit cats despite the SARS risk. Wildlife farming was legal again. By 2004 the wildlife farming industry was worth 100 billion yuan but still a very small proportion of China’s gross income.
Those involved in wildlife farming appear to exert a strong influence on the Chinese government.
Hence the growth of these markets by the government. A government sponsored report in 2017 found China’s wildlife trade was worth more than $73 billion and employed more than a million people. They also persuaded the government to sanction the farming of what had been illegal wildlife species like tigers and pangolins. These animals were then promoted as “tonic products” for sex-enhancing activities, body-building and health and well-being. None of the claims have been proven. The Chinese who consume these wildlife products appear to be rich and powerful and make up a tiny minority of the population. They command support and seek favour from the government over 1.4 billion other Chinese who do not consume wildlife animals. After the Covid-19 outbreak China closed down the wet markets and temporarily banned wildlife trade again.
Countries and organisations from around the world have urged China to make the ban on wildlife trade permanent.
But it’s not just China that holds these markets and the ban should be made worldwide. Similar markets exist in Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and other Asian countries. For the animals the wet markets can be described as hell on earth as these sentient beings are packed tightly together with no food or water, waiting for their cruel death. As long as these markets continue to exist the likelihood is that other new diseases will emerge causing a calamitous impact from global epidemics and even pandemics occurring. China has acknowledged it needs to bring its lucrative wildlife industry under control if it is to prevent another outbreak. A group of 19 academics from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and leading universities issued a joint statement calling for an end to the wildlife trade saying it should be treated as a ‘public safety issue’. A wildlife campaigner from the Environmental Investigation Agency claimed “The vast majority of people within China react to the abuse of wildlife in the same way people in other countries do – with anger and revulsion!.” China has no justifiable reason not to enforce the ban on wildlife trade and should take responsibility NOW by closing these markets down for good.
A few last words…..there is of course many conspiracy theories around the coronavirus. With an outbreak of Covid-19 which has many uncertainties and when scientists are unable to provide all the answers then people like to speculate. This blog has been written factually and based on reports from Chinese academics and scientists.