The Wuhan wet market scandal: everything you need to know

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As soon as coronavirus was verified as a global concern, identifying the point of origin became a priority, and wet markets in Wuhan were quickly thrust into the spotlight.

Understanding exactly what a wet market is, why those in Wuhan have been named as a potential cause of coronavirus and where we go from here could be crucial in the fight against the global pandemic. Read on to find out everything there is to know.

What is a Wuhan wet market?

Firstly, wet markets are not only found in Wuhan, China, they just happen to be the most prolific or widely known because of what is happening in the world right now.

Wet markets have long been in existence and continue to operate. Let’s not assume that Wuhan is the only operator, as that could be discriminatory towards a lot of people that don’t shop at local wet markets and eat ethically.

Okay, so what is a wet market?

wet market coronavirusA better and far broader question. A wet market is a large grouping of outdoor stalls selling fresh produce and animal products. Some vendors will sell live animals and wildlife, often killing them on-site and on-demand for customers.

The term “wet” refers to the containers of water with thrashing fish contained within, ice for keeping meat cold and the blood and entrails of slaughtered animals that can be found on the floor. The goods being sold are also prone to being unsuitable for consumption within a shorter period of time than non-perishable dry goods.

Are wildlife markets the same thing?

No, though they are often banded together and do sound very similar. Wildlife markets focus specifically on the selling of animals as either food or pets. Fresh fruit and vegetables are not found here at all. The markets can be found throughout the world and are legal, though many have been found to offer illegal, endangered or dangerous species alongside those that are permitted.

For more, read our story on animal rights and wet markets in China.

Why are wet markets in Wuhan receiving such bad press?

Early in 2019, few people had heard of, let alone talked about, wet markets. But all of a sudden, every news item and coronavirus update included the term, while specifically referencing Wuhan. The reason is that the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, found in the Hubei province, had a live animal sales area and has now been identified as the likely origin of the global Covid-19 outbreak.

Though much of the reporting remained objective and professional, of course there were a number of salacious pieces designed to shock and horrify, which put the spotlight firmly on the more ‘distasteful’ elements of wet markets. This led to stories of live bat eating and other shocking claims as to what could be the cause of the pandemic.

Find out how the global meat industry as a whole is being exposed and reevaluated.

Are the Wuhan markets closed now?

china wet marketDespite demands from the US, China never forcefully ordered the closure of any markets, wet, wildlife or otherwise. The reason is that they are considered as vital sources of affordable food for a lot of people and provide a living for many more.

The selling and consumption of wild animals as food was banned on January 26, 2020 and the Huanan Market was closed temporarily after being pinpointed as the likely starting point of the Covid-19 outbreak. Most wet markets are operating as normal again now, though without the selling of wild animals or meat for the time being.

Can the coronavirus pandemic really be traced to China?

All the scientific evidence would suggest so, but let’s not blame a country or its culture for the outbreak. Instead, let’s try to understand why the eating of wild animals can cause disease and widespread consequences.

The World Health Organization has made it clear that coronavirus is not the first disease to be transmitted from animals to humans, with HIV and Ebola both being recognised examples. It is more that the conditions of wet markets make them breeding grounds for easy transmission. As animals are kept in cramped conditions and in close proximity to each other, pathogens naturally transfer between individuals and species, mutating as they go. Covid-19, being a respiratory illness, could have been transmitted to vendors in the market via animal bodily fluids and, later, consumption.

Though the coronavirus pandemic has been traced, according to research, to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale market in Wuhan, it could have just as easily have started in a similar market anywhere else in the world. Retaining a sense of perspective in terms of not jumping to conclusions and blaming an entire country for what is happening right now is essential.

Is the Covid-19 outbreak a good argument for veganism?

coronavirus veganThis is a difficult question. On the one hand, if nobody demanded certain meats, then the wet markets may no longer operate and therefore outbreaks of this nature might not occur, but who can say whether or not this would eradicate the risk? We simply don’t know yet. Even if wild meat was no longer traded, perhaps the selling of wild animals as pets — which is still legal in China — would be the cause instead.

It seems fair to say that a meat market is at the centre of the coronavirus pandemic, and with that in mind, veganism seems like a more attractive option than ever before, but it can’t stop the pandemic from running its course now. It is not only omnivores that are contracting Covid-19, so we must be reticent of the fact that being vegan is not an antidote.

Have you wondered whether the Covid-19 vaccine is suitable for vegans and if you’re willing to take it?

Amy Buxton
Amy Buxton
Amy is a committed ethical vegan, raising a next generation compassionate human with her husband and their beloved dog, Boo. A freelance writer with a background in PR, she decided to use the COVID lockdown period to refocus her client base and has come to The Vegan Review as a senior writer and editor, before moving into her external content director role. "What we should be doing is working at the job of life itself" is Amy's mantra, courtesy of Tom from The Good Life.