WHO: Let's not be too hasty closing those wet markets over a few hundred thousand deaths

Well, this certainly isn’t going to help WHO’s image as an organization that does whatever China tells them to do. Today the World Health Oranization said that despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of people worldwide have died from a pandemic that apparently arose in a Wuhan wet market, we shouldn’t push to shut down such markets:

In a press briefing, WHO food safety and animal diseases expert Peter Ben Embarek said live animal markets are critical to providing food and livelihoods for millions of people globally and that authorities should focus on improving them rather than outlawing them — even though they can sometimes spark epidemics in humans.

“Food safety in these environments is rather difficult and therefore it’s not surprising that sometimes we also have these events happening within markets,” Ben Embarek said.

Saying this is no big surprise in the midst of the worst pandemic in 100 years is an interesting approach. And in a sense, he’s right. The SARS virus which arose in a Chinese wet market 18 years ago proves that this probably shouldn’t come as a shock. The Chinese government lied about that outbreak too. So I guess you could say the entire process, from the origin, to the spread, to the lying about it, shouldn’t be a surprise.

The next part of this is really interesting. I’ve highlighted one sentence below:

He said reducing the risk of disease transmission from animals to humans in these often overcrowded markets could be addressed in many cases by improving hygiene and food safety standards, including separating live animals from humans. He added that it is still unclear whether the market in Wuhan linked to the first several dozens of coronavirus cases in China was the actual source of the virus or merely played a role in spreading the disease further.

On the one hand, China has been pushing propaganda for weeks that the source of the virus is unknown. That’s true but often that was followed by a conspiracy theory that it originated in the United States. On the other hand, while the US origin of the virus is false, it’s true that about a third of the first cohort of cases were not connected to the market. So it’s fair to say the origin might not be the market but that is the story China has asked the world to believe (or one of them). The market was just down at the beginning of the year and has not been reopened, though other similar markets in Wuhan have re-opened, now supposedly free of wildlife animals. Is this true? We probably don’t really know:

Although China in February 2020 imposed a ban on the trade in live wild animals, it remains unclear whether this ban is being fully enforced. (Some of China’s wet markets have offered live wild animals to customers as food. After sale, the animals are slaughtered on premise. The list of animals offered by such markets, including the market in Wuhan, has included wolf cubs, civet cats, snakes, bats, pangolins, turtles, and many other species.) China’s government has refused to shutter its wet markets permanently. Rather, it has reopened them, now ostensibly without wild animals for sale, while promoting their cleanliness.

This refusal constitutes irresponsible and dangerous behaviour by the current leadership of the government of China. This is not the first time in this crisis that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ignored the broader good of its own people – and the global community – in favour of protecting its own power.

On the other hand, you have arguments like this one published in Slate today that criticism of the markets is really just western racism:

If there’s a reason why it’s widely believed that the novel coronavirus emerged in a Chinese “wet market” in Wuhan, it’s because many of the earliest reports treated this origin theory as fact.

While the possibility of COVID-19 emerging from these so-called “wet markets” hasn’t been eliminated, it is not at all certain that the virus emerged from these markets. When CNN (4/6/20) interviewed several virus experts for a report on the various origin theories of COVID-19, all of them acknowledged that anyone who claims to know the origins of the outbreak with certainty is “guessing,” with the experts reportedly “at odds” over the “once widely accepted theory that the virus originated at a wet market.”

That CNN story the author mentioned included all kinds of theories including the accidental lab release. The Slate author never mentions that as a possibility. He just doesn’t like the idea of this being pinned on the market. And who knows maybe he has a point. But given that we don’t know the answer, shouldn’t we be awfully concerned about things returning to normal in the place where it might have originated? WHO doesn’t seem terribly concerned about that.