WATCH: Live crayfish sold at recently opened wet market

 

Live crayfish are being sold in wet markets in Wuhan - the epicentre of the coronavirus - days after reopening to the public.

After months of strict lockdown due to the spread of COVID-19, Chinese media shows residents returning to normal life, with 90 per cent of stalls operating at Baishazhou Agricultural Products Market.

Among the footage of residents conversing, live crayfish and crabs are shown squirming in baskets. However, selling live wild animals and livestock is now banned.

Baishazhou is one of the city's main food wholesale markets, sprawling 116 acres.

COVID-19 is believed to have originated at another wet market in Wuhan, called Huanan; however, this is not confirmed.

While Huanan remains closed, visitors to Baishazhou are now required to show they have to tested negative to COVID-19 prior to entering the markets.

Their temperature must also be taken, according to local media.

Currently customer numbers are just 10 per cent of what the market - known as the biggest trading place for live crayfish in China - had last year.

It is currently selling 30 tonnes of the crustacean a day, compared to 120 tonnes in previous years.

 

Several stalls in every wet market in Guilin traded in different species of dogs – live and dead – including Chinese rural dogs and pet-like dogs. Picture: David Wong/South China Morning Post via Getty Images
Several stalls in every wet market in Guilin traded in different species of dogs – live and dead – including Chinese rural dogs and pet-like dogs. Picture: David Wong/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

 

OUTRAGE OVER MOVE TO REOPEN CHINA'S WET MARKETS

The footage comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison takes a swipe at the World Health Organisation for backing China's right to reopen its wet markets.

Mr Morrison said on Tuesday it was "unfathomable" WHO supported live animal markets, which the UN body claimed was a source of livelihood and food security for China's vast population.

Despite the virus, COVID-19 has now infected 1.9 million people and killed 120,000 in 215 countries - having originated in Wuhan, where those wet markets opened on the weekend after being closed in January.

"I'm totally puzzled by this decision," Mr Morrison said.

"We need to protect the world against potential sources of outbreaks of these types of viruses. It has happened too many times."

The prime minister said the world was looking to WHO to play a central role in putting in place measures to ensure another pandemic does not happen.

"Australia and the world will be looking to organisations like the WHO to ensure lessons are learned from the devastating coronavirus outbreak," he said.

"There must be transparency in understanding how it began in Wuhan and how it was transmitted.

"We also need to fully understand and protect against the global health threat posed by places like wet markets."

World-leading authority on viral evolution Professor Eddie Holmes said the sale of mammalian species caged and working in such close contact with humans was a particular problem.

Live animal markets like this one in Guangzhou, southern China have been blamed for new infectious diseases like SARS and avian flu. Picture: KY Cheng/South China Morning Post via Getty Images
Live animal markets like this one in Guangzhou, southern China have been blamed for new infectious diseases like SARS and avian flu. Picture: KY Cheng/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

"That's the critical thing, these are wildlife they're not farmed animals, they're not domestic animals, these are wildlife animals," the Australian Academy of Science fellow said.

"So the problem is that obviously if that wildlife animal has a virus it's picked up from a bat itself and we're interacting with them in the market situation, there's a good chance the virus will then spread to the person handling the animal and that person will then go home and then spread it to someone else and et cetera and we have an outbreak, and that's kind of what we think most likely happened here."

He said the simplest solution was reducing exposure to wildlife.

"Particularly in these market situations, illegal wildlife trading, we have to build simple barriers by, I will suggest, closing these wet markets down, really stopping the trade in wildlife species," Professor Holmes said.

"Now people argue, 'oh maybe it'll go underground' but anything that reduces the number of these and therefore reduces the exposure of humans to wildlife viruses must be a good thing."

Wuhan is to spend more than $30 million to upgrade its 425 "farmer's" markets to improve hygiene but fears exist this will not be enough.

China's top legislature has also said it was looking at banning the trade and consumption of wild animals with the city of Shenzhen last week going a step further and declaring cats and dogs as domestic pets and therefore not to be eaten.

But ahead of any national law changes coming into effect, wet markets were now set to reopen with the backing of the WHO.

WHO said wet markets, common across Asia, could be made safe as a food source "with adequate facilities, proper regulation and good hygiene practices".

Health Minister Greg Hunt is also unsettled by wet markets reopening.

"There is a very real likelihood that this disease arose from a wet market in Wuhan - it's clear that these are dangerous vectors," Mr Hunt told the ABC.

"So we might disagree on this issue with some of the international authorities, but our job is to protect Australians, and I would imagine that around the world, the vast majority of people would have a similar view."

More than 200 conservation groups from around the world last month sent WHO an open letter calling for markets to exclude wildlife from their endorsement.

The US National Institute of Health has also called for wet markets to close.

"I mean it boggles my mind when we have so many diseases that emanate out of that unusual human animal interface that we don't just shut it down. I don't know what else has to happen to get us to appreciate that," director Dr Anthony Fauci said.