Soon after the central Chinese city of Wuhan went into lockdown two months ago, the central government fast-tracked a ban on the trade and consumption of wildlife.
The coronavirus that has killed tens of thousands of people around the world first emerged in the city and many of the early patients were linked to the Huashan Seafood Wholesale Market, which sold wild animals.
Research suggests that the virus came from bats, and likely went through an intermediate host, possibly pangolins, before reaching humans.
The national ban " as well as others around the world " is an attempt to stop a similar pandemic disease from animals.
But while the ban has been welcomed, health specialists say that broader laws, effective enforcement and international cooperation are needed to tamp down the risk.
A bigger ban
Before the ban, wildlife trade and consumption was a multibillion-dollar industry.
A 2017 report by the Chinese Academy of Engineering estimated that the industry employed more than 14 million people and generated about $74 billion in revenue in 2016.
Under the new legislation in China, wild animals may no longer be bred for consumption but it is still legal to farm them for fur and traditional Chinese medicine.
Amanda Whitfort, an expert on animal welfare law with the University of Hong Kong, said all uses of wild animals should be prohibited to minimize risk.
The effectiveness of the new law would depend on how strictly it was enforced, she said, stressing that risks remained as China did not ensure proper living conditions for animals allowed to be bred legally.
"If it's being bred in closely confined circumstances, if it's being slaughtered in ways that are unhygienic and uncontrolled and quarantines aren't being respected … then you've got a recipe for a disaster again," Whitfort said.
Even if China can effectively enforce its own laws against the trade, international cooperation is needed to stop it on a broader scale, according to Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
"For example with China's borders with Southeast Asia, because of this (wildlife) trade relations, if that demand is still there you could expect that this trade on the wild animals cannot stop, unless there is effective international cooperation," Huang said.
He said the World Health Organization and other multilateral institutions could be platforms for establishing common rules on the trade.
There have been calls for a global ban on the wildlife trade but some countries have already taken steps on their own. On Friday, the central African nation of Gabon banned the sale and consumption of bats and pangolins.
Both animals are traded for their meat, but pangolins are also popular among Chinese buyers for their scales, an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine.
According to the Wildlife Justice Commission, pangolins are the most trafficked animals in the world, with six territories " Nigeria, Vietnam, China, Singapore, Hong Kong, and the Democratic Republic of Congo " accounting for 94% of all intercepted scales from the animal.
Asked about targeted bans like the one in Gabon, Whitfort said the most recent coronavirus and severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) showed that diseases that made the leap from animals to humans were not limited to one species.
"(They) will, in time, come through other species. It's really shutting the gate after the horse is bolted to say 'well now we're just not going to eat those species,' what happens when the next one comes along, it may well be another species," she said.
Wet market debate
So is the answer to close all markets that sell live animals, such as the one in Wuhan where many of the early patients had visited?
Although under the new law, wildlife like civets is banned from sale at Chinese markets, vendors can still sell aquatic animals, livestock, poultry, and other live animals. These include animals such as frogs and turtles that may be considered exotic elsewhere.
Jeremy Rossman, a virologist at the University of Kent in Britain, said it would be a step in the right direction to ensure that all animals from the wild were not sold at markets.
The key risk factor was not whether an animal was considered exotic but "where it lives, how it is captured and how it is sold and consumed," he said.
"The risk of transmission to humans is larger with trade in mammals … but there are risks from any wild animal, regardless of exotic or not," Rossman said.
"Wildlife trade and consumption, especially in wet markets, provides an opportunity for pathogens to jump species, and the emergence of human pathogens has been seen in these types of markets on numerous occasions."
Rossman said other human activities, such as climate change and the destruction or encroachment of ecological niches, could contribute to the emergence of new diseases.
Huang of the Council on Foreign Relations, said that while taking wildlife out of the markets was an important step, the markets themselves were an important link in food supplies, particularly in places that are beyond the reach of big grocery chains.
"It's hard to imagine in a rural countryside that you could shut the wet markets. Where is the grocery store? I don't think they can find a place to buy food like chicken and fish," Huang said.
"Secondly, most Chinese are not used to buying frozen foods like chicken, fish, they would prefer the live one and kill the fish or have the chicken slaughtered on the spot. That's very entrenched in China and we cannot expect that to change overnight."
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