Credit: WCS/ Vietnam

Wildlife-to-human transmission theory of Coronavirus echoed among top medical scientists

Calls for permanent measures against trade and consumption of wild animals are growing

While wildlife is still at a center of controversy; whether it has passed the novel Coronavirus to human, the theory has been echoed among top medical scientists amid calls for rather a permanent ban on live animal markets and trade.

Dr. Zhong Nanshan, director of the China State Key Laboratory of Respiratory Disease, who led the fight against SARS 17 years ago, mentioned about it again while giving an interview to Xinhua on Tuesday that Coronavirus has something similar to the virus once found in a bat in 2017, and its host possibly is a wild species.

The doctor was also quoted by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), as saying on Chinese state television, that the likely source of the new coronavirus as wildlife. 

WCS said some environmental samples from the Wuhan market have been linked to wildlife while scientists from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control have confirmed a live animal market with a multitude of wildlife species as “the origin” of the Wuhan coronavirus. 

The organisation early made an open call for closing live animal markets while strengthening efforts to promote social behavior change communication but suppress trade and consumption activities.

WCS further pointed that a group of senior Chinese academics, including the former president of Peking University and Dr. Shi Zhengli of Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academic of Science, who is one of the scientists who identified bats as the original carrier of SARs, have publicly called on China’s National People’s Congress to end the illegal trade and consumption of wild animals by issuing emergency legislation integrating public health and safety concerns into the wildlife protection law, underlining the relationship between public health threats and wild animal consumption and trade.

In response to the growing theory, Chinese officials on Sunday announced the immediate ban on trade of wild animals nationwide, as another approach to curb the spreading of pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus.

The ban which became effective immediately shall not be lifted until the epidemic is declared over, as declared by the State Administration for Market Regulation, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs and the National Forestry and Grassland Administration, Xinhua reported.

Xinhua reported that the decision came after the geographical distribution of infection cases in central China’s Wuhan indicated “a close relationship” between the outbreak and illegal sales of wildlife in a market.

So, any form of wildlife trade would be strictly prohibited on platforms including marketplaces, supermarkets, dining places and e-commerce sites, according to the state agencies’ statement.

Any businesses and operators breaching the ban shall be shut down. And if the violations are serious enough, the suspects shall be handed over to police for criminal investigation, the statement said.

Calls for permanent banning of the trade

WCS said in its updates on the situation that Chinese government was to be applauded for acting quickly, as three government agencies took the first step.

However, it said this was not enough, as the ban currently only covers the period until “the epidemic situation is lifted nationwide”. 

It must be permanent, the organisation pointed.

Citing its Health Program, the resulting re-assortment and exchange of viral components between species at live animal markets is a major source of new viruses. These can be zoonotic, transmitted from animals to humans such as Avian Influenza, SARS, MERS, and subsequently successfully mutate so that they can transmit between humans, creating the conditions for a rapid global pandemic.

Worse, similar markets occur in cities across other Asian countries and if these persist, then people will continue to face heightened risks from emerging new viruses, potentially more lethal, the organisation pointed.

The Guardian has reported today, citing Jinfeng Zhou, secretary general of the long-experienced China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF), who analysed the state’s initiative, and said the ban failed to address the root cause of the outbreak, which was poor regulation and high levels of illegal trade.

She told the Guardian that this temporary ban is not enough. The trade should be banned indefinitely, at least until new rules are introduced. 

“We have had similar diseases caused by illegal wildlife trafficking and if we don’t ban the trade these diseases will happen again.” Zhou was quoted as saying.

China has a wildlife protection law that was adopted in 1988 but the list of protected wild animals has not been updated for three decades, the paper said.

Sources: Xinhua, WCS, The Guardian