Twenty days after the coronavirus’s first appearance on the news, Chinese officials announced a temporary ban on wild animal trade to prevent the spreading of the virus on the 26th of January. China’s decision to ban wild animal trade came after the director of China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, announced that “the origin of coronavirus being the illegally sold wildlife in a Wuhan seafood market.” While the ban prevents wildlife to be transported or sold in any markets or online, it also orders legal breeding centers to be quarantined till “the epidemic situation is lifted nationwide.”
Previously in 2002 and 2003, we witnessed the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pandemic which was, like coronavirus, traced to the consumption of wildlife animals in China. Due to a lack of trade regulations, the virus easily spread, sickening more than 8,000 and killing around 800 people. According to AP news, SARS has been linked to various animals including bats, that are also known to harbor coronaviruses. Even the recent ban on wildlife trade can limit the spreading of the coronavirus, animal rights organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and WildAid, alongside many, are asking for an indefinite ban. On their website, WWF brings attention to the constant threat posed by zoonotic diseases (diseases that pass from animals to humans) and illegal wildlife trade to wild populations and on global diversity.
As the President of Ecohealth Alliance told to The Wall Street Journal “This is absolutely déjà vu all over again from SARS.” There are many measures taken by states and businesses to limit the spreading of coronavirus. Many airlines canceled their flights from and to China, the city of Wuhan and, according to AP news, neighboring 16 surrounding cities are under lockdown, and, on January 30th, World Health Organization (WHO) declared public health emergency of international concern. Of course, there is also a temporary ban on wildlife trade. It is wonderful to see governments and politicians are working together to limit the prevent it from becoming a worldwide pandemic, but wouldn’t it be better if we did not have this problem from the beginning? In the past decades, we had several cases of zoonotic diseases, such as SARS, Ebola, bird and swine flu. Even though they are not all related to the wild animal trade, by now, we should have understood the severity of these diseases and should have taken measures to minimize any possibility of an outbreak. Still, it is not too late to learn from our mistakes. Therefore, banning wildlife trade permanently can a step towards preventing future diseases.
According to the Wilson Center’s research, China is the biggest market for illegal wildlife products. In the past, Chine had attempted to regulate its wildlife trade by criminalizing the consumption of protected species and registering the vendors of unprotected species. But these measures were not strict enough to prevent the illegal market from operating. Reuters reported that there were 50 types of wild animals, including endangered species, on sale at the Wuhan market before it was closed due to coronavirus. The lack of regulation on the e-commerce of wildlife trade allows the sale of endangered animals on Alibaba and even through WeChat.
According to CNN, by January 31st, coronavirus has affected 9,709 people in mainland China and caused 213 people are dead, and there are more than 140 confirmed cases of the virus outside China. Hopefully, China’s wildlife animal trade ban can limit the spreading of the virus, and officials can hear out animal rights and environmental activist and revisit their decision on the span of the ban.