Covid: World Health Organisation calls for halt to sale of wild animals in food markets

13 April 2021, 17:53 | Updated: 13 April 2021, 18:02

The interim guidance is aimed at reducing public health risks
The interim guidance is aimed at reducing public health risks. Picture: PA

By Harriet Whitehead

The World Health Organisation (WHO), backed by key partners, has urged countries to suspend the sale of live animals captured from the wild in food markets.

This recommendation comes as the organisation says wild animals are a leading source of emerging infectious diseases such as coronavirus.

The interim guidance is aimed at reducing public health risks associated with these transactions as most emerging infectious diseases have wildlife origins.

The new guidance says that animals - particularly wild animals - "are the source of more than 70% of all emerging infectious diseases in humans, many of which are caused by novel viruses".

It states: "Significant problems can arise when these markets allow the sale and slaughter of live animals, especially wild animals, which cannot be properly assessed for potential risks – in areas open to the public."

It adds: "Such environments provide the opportunity for animal viruses, including coronaviruses, to amplify themselves and transmit to new hosts, including humans."

The coronavirus pandemic is thought to have first appeared in the city of Wuhan, China.

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The WHO highlighted the risk of direct transmission of emerging infectious diseases to humans who come in contact with bodily fluids of an infected animal, and cited the "additional risk" of picking it up in places where such animals are housed or locations that could have been contaminated with such viruses.

"Globally, traditional markets can play a central role in providing food and livelihoods for large populations," the WHO said in a statement.

However, it added: "Banning the sale of the animals can protect people's health - both those working there and those shopping there."

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The WHO joined with the World Organisation for Animal Health and the UN environment programme in its analysis leading to the new recommendations.