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    Wuhan Is Returning to Life. So Are Its Disputed Wet Markets

    (Bloomberg) -- Cars lined up this week at the main entrance to the Baishazhou wet market, one of the biggest in Wuhan, which is buzzing again. The Chinese city where the coronavirus first emerged has stirred back to life following a lockdown lasting for months.A sign hovers overhead: “No slaughtering and selling live animals.”Baishazhou and other wet markets are at the center of an intensifying global debate about whether they should be allowed to operate, given another market in Wuhan was one of the first places where the virus was detected. U.S. officials, in particular, are ramping up pressure to shut them down. Yet such markets in China and elsewhere in Asia are as essential a part of everyday life as bodegas in the New York City or boulangeries in Paris.The challenge facing Beijing’s central government as Wuhan and the rest of the country seeks to return to normal life will be how to keep open such markets -- which function like a farmers’ market in Western countries -- while enforcing rules against the live slaughter of animals or sale of wildlife on site.“Banning wet markets is not only going to be impossible, but will also be destructive for urban food security in China as they play such a pivotal role in ensuring urban residents’ access to affordable and healthy food,” said Dr. Zhenzhong Si, a research associate at the University of Waterloo who studies food security in China.The coronavirus, which has now infected more than 1.4 million people worldwide, was first discovered in December after a cluster of cases initially linked to the city’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market -- one of the biggest aquatic wholesale markets in central China. Subsequent research, including a study by Chinese researchers published in the Lancet in February, has found that some of the earliest cases had no exposure to the Huanan market.Scientists and Chinese officials believe the deadly illness jumped to humans from wild animals, most likely via an intermediary species like bats. Close contact with wild animals at the market, which has been closed since January, has been widely blamed for the outbreak.American OppositionU.S. officials are calling for President Xi Jinping’s government to immediately close the markets, saying they are potential breeding grounds for disease. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said last week the coronavirus was a “direct result” of unsanitary markets and said it was “mind-boggling” that the markets remained open.“I would like to see the rest of the world really lean with a lot of pressure on those countries that have that,” he said on “Fox and Friends.”Republican lawmakers including Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina are urging Chinese officials not to reopen such markets. Graham last week sent a letter to the Chinese ambassador to the U.S. imploring him to pressure his government, saying “their operation should cease immediately.”There also may be some semantic confusion. U.S. officials and others refer to wet markets generally while what they appear to be seeking to ban is the live animal trade in the markets.“The closest thing to wet markets in Western countries are farmers’ markets where you can buy products from independent vendors,” said Jian Yi, founder of the Good Food Academy, an online platform advocating healthy eating. “People depend on wet markets for vegetables, fruits, meat and fish.”In any case, shuttering such markets would be next to impossible as they are crucial to the livelihood of millions of farmers and small business vendors and are a centerpiece of communities across China. A 2018 study from Canada’s Wilfrid Laurier University and Hungry Cities Partnership, which looks at urban food systems, found 90% of households in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing, with a population of more than eight million, bought food from wet markets -- with 75% visiting one at least five times a week.Wet markets are popular in China because they’re convenient, and products are considered to be less expensive and fresher than in many supermarkets. While pigs, lambs and cows must be butchered in special slaughtering factories, rather than on site, meat sold at the markets isn’t packaged, and live fish and chickens are common.Cracking DownAlthough there are well-managed, hygienic wet markets in and near bigger cities, hygiene can be spotty, especially in smaller communities. Even before the virus outbreak, China’s central and local governments tried to regulate wild animal trading at markets, instituting occasional checks to improve sanitation.China’s wild-animal farming industry was worth an estimated 520 billion yuan ($74 billion) in 2016 and employed more than 14 million people, according to the Chinese Academy of Engineering. Environmentalists, researchers and Chinese state media have called for stricter regulation of exotic animal trade in the markets.Photos that circulated online in January showed animals including deer -- which aren’t commonly eaten in China -- and peacocks available for purchase at the Huanan market. This triggered an outcry over authorities’ negligence in ignoring loopholes that allow their purchase and sale as long as they’re bred on farms. Wild animals are categorized as those that aren’t commonly eaten.China’s National Health Commission in January issued a temporary emergency order that Wuhan officials should “strictly manage” the markets and prohibit wild animals and live poultry from entering the city. Under pressure in February as the virus spread, the National People’s Congress announced a ban on trading wild terrestrial animals for the purpose of eating.Still, the NPC’s decision didn’t cover the trade of exotic animals for use in traditional Chinese medicines, fashion or entertainment. Chinese medicine holds that some exotic animals have health benefits and has helped fuel the illegal smuggling and trade of species like the endangered pangolin, whose scales are believed to cure a variety of ailments.“It’s misleading to focus on wet markets when we discuss the outbreak,” said Si, of the University of Waterloo. “It overshadows the true problem here, which is the supply chain of wild animals. We shouldn’t demonize wet markets because of the coronavirus outbreak.”The Chinese government has been pushing for the resumption of economic activity now that the official infection numbers have been at a low level for weeks, trying to kick start consumption that all but disappeared during the outbreak.The now-famous Huanan market remained closed this week, even as Wuhan gradually reopened. The smell of seafood wafted on the street, though the market was boarded up and guarded by police who stopped people from taking photos.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • U.S.
    The Daily Beast

    Bill O’Reilly: Those Dying From Coronavirus ‘Were on Their Last Legs Anyway’

    Disgraced former Fox News star Bill O’Reilly shrugged off the growing death toll from the coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday, callously claiming that projected deaths from the virus will be low because those who are currently dying “were on their last legs anyway.”During a segment on O’Reilly’s former Fox News colleague Sean Hannity’s radio show, Hannity wondered aloud when American life would snap back to normalcy. In recent days, Hannity has focused much of his airtime on calling for a quick reversal of social distancing guidelines in order to restart the American economy.“I want life back to normal, can you fix that in a simple way?” Hannity quipped.“Oh man I wish I could, you know?” O’Reilly responded before assuring Hannity that it would happen sooner rather than later.Claiming that it was “really good for everybody” that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) dropped out of the presidential race—he later suggested it was due to Sanders’ health-care policies—O’Reilly then went on to doubt the virus’ lethality.“The projections that you just mentioned are down to 60,000,” he said, citing a recent model on projected American deaths through August. “I don't think it will be that high.”“13,000 dead now in the USA,” he continued. “Many people who are dying, both here and around the world, were on their last legs anyway, and I don't want to sound callous about that.”Sensing that O’Reilly’s comments would draw immediate outrage, Hannity interjected and let O’Reilly know that he’s “going to get hammered for that.”“Well, I don't care,” the one-time O’Reilly Factor host fired back. “I mean, a simple man tells the truth.”Hannity and O’Reilly would then point to the relatively high mortality rates from the virus in Italy and Spain, citing socialized medicine, Europeans’ smoking habits, and the countries’ older populations as reasons so many have succumbed there.O’Reilly, meanwhile, ended the discussion by predicting that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will say that a large percentage of “people who died from the virus, also had other things that killed them.”The ex-Fox star’s comment echoes those of other right-wing personalities recently who have questioned the death count. Fox News senior analyst Brit Hume, for instance, has repeatedly asserted that the American death toll—which currently stands at over 14,000—is inflated because anyone who dies after contracting COVID-19 is being counted.Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, rejected Hume’s argument that coronavirus deaths are being exaggerated due to pre-existing conditions and other causes during the daily coronavirus briefing.“Those individuals will have an underlying condition, but that underlying condition did not cause their acute death when it’s related to a Covid infection,” she said Wednesday. “In fact, it’s the opposite.”Top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, meanwhile, was far more blunt.“You will always have conspiracy theories when you have a very challenging public health crisis. They are nothing but distractions,” he declared at the briefing.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.