Wet markets have been demonized as the site where the novel coronavirus was introduced.
What is a wet market? What role does it play in Asian culture? All are questions that have not been answered.
The wet market in Asia is a common shopping area where butchers and grocers sell fresh produce from local farms. In Wuhan, COVID-19 was traced to the world-famous Hunan seafood market where the blame points to the illegal trade of bats that could have spread the virus to snakes or to pangolins.
The west has come to learn about wet markets through COVID-19, which has globally infected close to 2 million people. The Chinese government, constantly pressured to close wet markets in general, made efforts to ban wildlife sales in the markets in late February.
These markets are not only common in China, but in other neighboring countries in Asia like Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. For example, in Hong Kong, a network of wet markets is where thousands of locals shop everyday. None of the Hong Kong markets trade in notorious exotic or wild animals. They are an important part of the food supply chain as they continuously offer fresh food for an affordable price. Wet markets range from selling non-perishable goods such as grain or household products to selling live porcupines and deer for food and medicine. Closing the wet markets is a threat to older generations that have been purchasing locally since childhood.
The west learned about the phrase “wet markets” because of COVID-19. On April 3rd, US top infectious disease specialist, NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci stated,
“It boggles my mind how, when we have so many diseases that emanate out of that unusual human-animal interface, that we just don’t shut it down.”
The United States and other countries have expressed their frustration with China, as not being transparent about Covid-19’s origin. As some theories blamed wet markets, U.S. president Donald Trump began to promote the idea that the virus might have escaped Wuhan laboratories. Conspiracy theories arose about how, because market workers were not infected, the virus must have started elsewhere.
Nearby the Hunan market, two Wuhan labs collected bat COVID-19 specimens. A level-4 biosecurity facility, The Wuhan institute of Virology (WIV) and a level-2 center, Wuhan Centre for Disease Control, are located not far away from the market. The theories floated by U.S.Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested that scientist were holding genetic splicing experiments–creating viruses from preexisting viruses, or that the facilities were collecting infected animal specimens that escaped due to poor security.
However, it came to a consensus through data-driven science that genetic splicing in Wuhan did not create the novel coronavirus. Microbiology professor Kristian Anderson published in the journal Nature Medicine in March that the virus had natural not manmade origins.
“the genetic data irrefutably shows that [COVID-19] is not derived from any previously used virus backbone.”
A geneticist at Cambridge, Peter Forster, compared early-virus genome collected when COVID-19 started with the sequences collected later when it became a global pandemic. He found that early in the outbreak there were two strands that were dominant: strain A and B.
Strain C was a variant developed from strain B. However the strain that was mostly associated with bat COVID-19 was found in early cases surrounding Guangdong, in southern China, rather than Wuhan located in central China. It is suggested, that the virus emerged from natural selection in an animal as host before the zoonotic animal to human transfer or a natural selection in humans followed by zoonotic transfer. Refutably, that Covid-19 derives from mysterious Wuhan genetic splicing is a conspiracy theory. After intensive research, the Chinese public is still misinformed and disconnected about COVID-19’s origin.
On April 16, Beijing tightened coronavirus research, which caused more speculation about viral origins. Under a new policy, all academic papers on COVID-19 have to be regulated before publication. Two Chinese universities have since been removing articles from the web. An anonymous Chinese researcher spoke to CNN,
“I think it is a coordinated effort from (the) Chinese government to control (the) narrative, and paint it as if the outbreak did not originate in China. And I don’t think they will really tolerate any objective study to investigate the origination of this disease.”
The regulation in China stated that all academic papers are to be sent to academic committees, then passed to Education Ministry’s Science and Technology Department, which forwards them to the task force under the State Council for vetting–and only at last approves papers’ submission to journals. This regulation was sent out for internal guidance to universities, and was posted by Fudan University, one of the top research universities in China on March 27. CNN then reached out to the one of the staff in the department who quoted, ”It is not supposed to be made public — it is an internal document.” The post was then taken down a few hours later, which in precisely the same case happened to China University of Geoscience in Wuhan.
I’m left to wonder what story do I believe in? Leader Donald Trump still stands his firm on “educating” the public with his own opinions and beliefs, Is it accountable for a leader to refuse scientific evidence? Leaders in China also do not provide a clear evidence and space to uncover to the truth behind this novel pandemic. As politics hinder the research, will the actions of these leader cause more cases and deaths, which already totals close to 4.5 million confirmed cases and more than 300 thousand deaths around the world.