Wuhan’s ‘wet markets’ reopen, face heat

China has banned wildlife sale for food, but the reopening has drawn global ire

Updated - April 16, 2020 10:23 pm IST

Published - April 16, 2020 10:20 pm IST - Wuhan

Back to business:  Vendors selling prawns at the Wuhan Baishazhou market in China’s central Hubei province.

Back to business: Vendors selling prawns at the Wuhan Baishazhou market in China’s central Hubei province.

At a large food market in the Chinese city of Wuhan , signs forbid the selling of wild animals and live fowl, while announcements calling for “victory” over COVID-19 play on a loop from speakers.

Also read: COVID-19: IAF aircraft lands in Wuhan with medical supplies

China’s “wet markets” have been slammed internationally as the coronavirus roils the world, with the disease having seemingly emerged from stalls selling live animals in Wuhan late last year.

The government has since banned the sale of wildlife for food, but the reopening of markets has drawn criticism from around the world as the death toll from the pandemic continues to mount.

Shut down during the lengthy quarantine that sealed off Wuhan until April 8, the city’s markets are now fighting for survival as customers have not been rushing back.

“There’s no question, we’re doomed this year,” spice seller Yang, who runs a stall at the massive Baishazhou wholesale market, told AFP . “There have never been so few people at our market.”

Mr. Yang, whose sales have fallen by a third from before the lockdown, dismissed criticism of markets as virus hotbeds as “unnecessary panic”.

One market remains closed: The Huanan Seafood Market that sold a range of exotic wildlife and is suspected to be the cradle of the virus that jumped from animals to humans.

Wet markets are popular venues to buy fresh meat, vegetables and fish across Asia -- most selling common, everyday produce to locals at affordable prices.

Most don’t sell live animals, although some do.

During visits to three Wuhan markets this week, AFP saw live turtles, frogs, fish and crustaceans for sale, but no fowl or mammals blamed for past diseases.

Workers at Baishazhou said they were now required to disinfect their stalls several times a day. Yang keeps multiple bottles of disinfectant in her small office, alongside a box of masks.

Global call

Nevertheless, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said this week the decision to reopen wet markets was “unfathomable”.

“We need to protect the world against potential sources of outbreaks of these types of viruses,” he told Australian TV.

The top medical specialist for the U.S. government, Anthony Fauci, told Fox News earlier this month that wet markets should be shut down “right away.”

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