China Reopens Wet Markets with World Health Organization’s Blessing

Eating dog meat to mark the summer solstice is a tradition in China's Guangxi province
AFP/PAK YIU

China’s notorious “wet markets,” the open-air wildlife slaughterhouses that were supposedly the mechanism for the Wuhan coronavirus jumping from animals to humans, are back in business with the approval of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO seal of approval stunned government officials and health experts around the globe.

Chinese state media outlets were delighted to announce the ostensibly “sanitized” wet markets are open again in provinces across China – including Wuhan, epicenter of the global pandemic that killed thousands of people and inflicted trillions of dollars in economic damage. According to the state-run Global Times, some of the wet markets never closed at all:

After the COVID-19 outbreak in late January, many of the city’s farmers’ and wet markets were ordered to close and to rectify their sanitary hazards. 

Zhang Zheyan, manager of a big market in Wuchang district, Wuhan told the Global Times that his market was ordered to lockdown in January, and he is waiting for the government’s order to reopen.

But the market’s vendors and neighboring residents cannot wait anymore, as many vendors are in need of income while the demand for fresh food has increased. 

Zhang opened a small patch of field in front of its market’s closed door, enabling vendors to display their products, such as poultry meat and fresh vegetables. Zhang said this is the market’s way of “self- redemption.” 

The old buzzing Wuyizha market in Wuchang district is nearly empty now, with only a few inspectors disinfecting the market floor and closed doors of shops. 

Wang, manager of Wuyizha market, said that more than 500 market vendors, who are now left jobless without income, are waiting eagerly for the government’s order to reopen again. 

Hong Zhihua, a deputy head of Hubei’s Patriotic Health Movement Committee, said at a conference on Friday that the Wuhan city government plans to give out 200 million yuan ($29.81 million) to upgrade 425 farmers market in the city, and urged not to sell wild animals, live poultry, or have pit latrines, and garbage in public after the market reopens. 

China, the country that employs a million censors to police every single social media post for unauthorized images of Winnie the Pooh, claims it can do nothing but “urge” the wet markets to refrain from selling endangered species and animals teeming with zoonotic killer viruses. The Global Times enthused that business would boom at the reopened market because shoppers can now indulge their exotic appetites at discount prices.

Although the CCP itself used to blame the coronavirus outbreak on wet markets and made noises about shutting them down at the height of global outrage, Chinese propaganda now denounces foreign criticism of the markets as “slander” and cultural arrogance. From another Global Times piece on Tuesday:

Western politicians and media outlets have now found a new target in their “coronavirus blame game” against China, as Wuhan, the Chinese city hit hardest by the coronavirus outbreak, lifted its 76-day lockdown and has gradually reopened its farmers and wet markets. They alleged the wet markets are the origin of the virus and incubators of human disease, and asked the permanent shutdown of the markets.

As it is deeply related to their daily life, angry Chinese people believe such groundless and ridiculous request of closing those markets, which plays a pivotal role in providing them with fresh, affordable and sustainable daily food, is equivalent to “forbidding us from eating,” and market vendors decried whoever asked China to close these markets and demanded them to support vendors financially. 

Also, Western politicians and media, including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today and Bloomberg, deceived by their preconceived idea of Chinese markets, accused such markets as hotbeds of selling wild animals, where on-site slaughter of animals is prevalent, and operated under unhygienic conditions. Some like the New York Post, a US newspaper, went further by saying that China is planning to export those wild animals after it bans consuming them inside its soil.

The Global Times went on to claim that its own propaganda writers have thoroughly investigated the wet markets and concluded they are all marvelous establishments with no health problems whatsoever. The article quoted Wuhan residents claiming no one eats bats and they never heard of the wet markets until Western media began complaining about them.

WHO announced its support for reopening the wet markets, although it mumbled a suggestion to close the most “dangerous” markets around the world, pointedly refusing to single out Wuhan or China. The agency has published guidelines on how to shop in wet markets in the past.

“You know how WHO and other parts of the international system work – we don’t have the capacity to police the world. Instead, what we have to do is offer advice and guidance, and there’s very clear advice from the Food and Agriculture Organisation and WHO that said there are real dangers in these kinds of environments,” explained WHO’s coronavirus special envoy, Dr. David Nabarro.

“75 percent of emerging infections come from the animal kingdom. It’s partly the markets, but it’s also other places where humans and animals are in close contact. Just make absolutely certain that you’re not creating opportunities for viral spread,” Nabarro said.

Image may contain: possible text that says 'Shopping in wet markets? Stay healthy! Wash hands with soap and water after touching animals and animal products Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth Avoid contact with sick animals and spoiled meat Avoid contact with stray animals, waste and and fluids in market World Health Organization'

News that the Wuhan markets are once again fully open for business was met with particular outrage in Australia. Sky News criticized WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus for ignoring pleas from world leaders and quoted Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrisson slamming the organization for its “unfathomable” decision to allow the “global health threat” of the markets to persist.

“This virus started in China and went round the world. And that’s that’s how it started. We all know that. And these wet markets can be a real problem when it comes to what can occur in those markets. And I think from a world health point of view, this is something the World Health Organization should do something about,” Morrisson said.

“Unless they can demonstrate that the regulations, the health and safety measures, are so strict that they can completely cut off the risk factors, they’re going to have to shut them down. It’s happened with SARS. It’s happened with avian influenza. It’s happened with COVID-19. Next time it might be an even worse virus,” agreed opposition MP Peter Khalil.

WHO replied blandly that it was “possible to have safe food sold in wet markets” given “adequate facilities, proper regulation, and good hygiene practices,” which it implicitly trusted the Chinese Communist Party to guarantee.

Another Australian MP, Andrew Hastie of the Liberal Party, castigated WHO for “glacially slow” decision-making at best, and wondered why the organization keeps failing to take strong action against China.

“When Beijing shut down travel from Hubei to the rest of China on January 23 – but strangely not from Hubei to the rest of the world – why didn’t the WHO act decisively then?” Hastie asked. “It could’ve prevented the mass global exportation of COVID-19 then by declaring a pandemic and alerting governments around the world of the danger ahead. ‘Closing borders then could’ve saved lives and a lot of economic hardship.”

“I think the WHO’s revealed some serious shortcomings, and I think they’ve revealed themselves to be a politicized organization. They have been too willing to accept Chinese explanations for this virus and the source and the causes,” added fellow Liberal MP Dave Sharma.

In the United States, White House task force leader Dr. Anthony Fauci is among those who have called for an end to the wet markets.

“It boggles my mind how, when we have so many diseases that emanate out of that unusual human-animal interface, that we just don’t shut it down. I don’t know what else has to happen to get us to appreciate that,” Fauci said.

One of the few wet markets that reportedly will not reopen is the specific establishment cited as ground zero for the coronavirus pandemic, the Hunan Seafood Wholesale Market. Whether that is truly the location where the virus jumped from animals to humans remains a topic of much debate, in part because the CCP is still hiding crucial information about the origins of the outbreak.

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