A new research by Chinese, British and Canadian researchers has found that thousands of wild animals were sold in markets in the Chinese city of Wuhan ahead of the Covid-19 outbreak. The study emphasizes on the active animal trade in the city, which has long been considered a potential source of the outbreak. In a paper published in the open access journal Scientific Reports, the scientists estimated that more than 47,000 wild animals from 38 species were sold in markets across Wuhan between May 2017 and November 2019 including 31 protected species with poor hygiene with health risks. A joint study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and China in 2021 and published in March said it could not be verified if wild animals were sold at the Huanan market.
The trade in wild animals was identified as a possible transmission route for the virus, which is thought to have originated in bats with the closest natural match found in a cave in southern China’s Yunnan province. Many, but not all, of the earliest known cases were linked to the Huanan market, and a later analysis found that over half of the first known cases in December 2019 had exposure to this or other city markets. The Chinese authorities said that only frozen wild animals were found at the Huanan market and tested after it was closed on 1st January 2020.
The WHO-China joint study said it was most likely that it entered humans via an intermediary species, with pangolins often identified as a likely candidate. The new paper, however, said there was no evidence that live bats or pangolins were sold in Wuhan, but mink, raccoon dogs, squirrels and foxes were all available. After the first COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China cracked down on wildlife trafficking and closed markets and captive breeding facilities, though it still allows some animals to be reared for fur or traditional Chinese medicine. The origins of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 remain unknown, and scientists and governments have called for further investigations into whether the virus came from a natural source or from a laboratory leak – a theory China has repeatedly denied.