UN: Live animal markets shouldn't be closed despite virus

The World Health Organization said that although a market in the Chinese city of Wuhan selling live animals likely played a significant role in the emergence of the new coronavirus, it does not recommend that such live markets be shut down globally

“Food safety in these environments is rather difficult and therefore it’s not surprising that sometimes we also have these events happening within markets,” Ben Embarek said.

Ben Embarek said investigations are continuing in China to pinpoint the animal source from which COVID-19 jumped into humans but that studies have since found other species are susceptible to the disease, including cats, tigers, ferrets and dogs. Identifying other vulnerable species will allow certain interventions to be put in place to prevent future outbreaks. “We don’t want to create a new reservoir in animals that could continue to create infections in humans,” he said.

Ben Embarek said it might take considerable time to identify the original animal source for the new coronavirus, explaining that extensive studies need to occur first, involving health officials carefully interviewing many of those infected in the early stages of the outbreak, to narrow down what their interactions with animals were before they fell sick. Scientists would then need to take samples from animals to find a close match to the coronavirus circulating in humans.

To date, China has not invited WHO or other external experts to be part of that investigation. Ben Embarek said China likely has the necessary expertise to conduct such studies and WHO has not noted any problems in China's willingness to collaborate with others.

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