Wet markets in China have reportedly reopened after easing of lockdown measures across several cities. Considering the decline in new coronavirus cases throughout the country, authorities have begun reopening businesses in an attempt to heal the world's second-largest economy.
The city of Wuhan, at the centre of the outbreak, reported no new cases for a sixth day, as businesses reopened and residents set about reclaiming a more normal life after lockdown for almost two months.
However, the markets are under watchful eyes of guards, who ensure no one is able to take pictures of the blood-soaked floors, slaughtering of dogs and rabbits, and scared animals cramped in cages.
Various reports suggest that a 55-year-old man from China's Hubei province could have been the first person to have contracted COVID-19 through one such 'wet market'.
“Wet markets are part of the local culture in Asia, as people believe that meat and produce sold there is fresher and cheaper than in modern retail outlets,” Pavida Pananond, an associate professor of international business at Thammasat University in Bangkok told The Jerusalem Post.
The 2002-03 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which started in China and killed about 800 people, was also believed to have emerged from wet markets. As CCN.com reported, in 2007, Clinical Microbiology Reviews Journal released a study detailing the possibility of a SARS-like epidemic reemerging in the future as a result of the viruses contained in bats which can spread through wet markets.
To prevent another coronavirus outbreak from occurring in the future, it is critical to eliminate practices that are suspected to have led to the virus outbreak. However, entirely shutting down these markets will put a lot of people out of work and the poorest will be affected largely.
These traditional markets are a lifeline for millions of small farmers, vendors and small businesses said Pavida, adding that shutting them would have a significant economic and cultural impact on poorer consumers. “It will be difficult to completely replace them as they serve consumers at the lower end of purchasing power, not to mention their cultural preference,” Pavida said.
To regions that have a culture of consuming and capturing bats, legally enforcing counteractive measures to prevent a virus outbreak is crucial. There are many options that could allow the authorities to enforce it without leaving thousands unemployed, such as government-supported work programs or banning only wildlife poaching instead of wet markets.