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Sens. Cory Booker, Lindsey Graham and more than 60 congressional lawmakers urged the World Health Organization on Thursday to ban and permanently close all wet markets globally amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Booker, D-N.J., was joined by Graham, R-S.C.,Reps. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., and Mike McCaul, R-Texas, in penning a letter to the WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Organization for Animal Health Director-General Monique Eloit, and Food and Agriculture Organization fo the United Nations Director-General Qu Dongyu.
The letter urged the officials to take “aggressive action toward a global shutdown of live wildlife markets and a ban on the international trade of live wildlife that is not intended for conservation purposes.”
“Live wildlife markets, known as ‘wet’ markets, were linked to the 2003 SARS outbreak and are believed to be the source of the current COVID-19,” Booker and Graham wrote. “As this pandemic continues to threaten the lives of millions, pushes healthcare systems to the breaking point, and devastates economies around the world, it is imperative that we all take action as a global community to protect public health.”
They went on to note that scientists studying diseases that are zoonotic – meaning they jump between animals and humans – have pointed to the close proximity of shoppers, vendors and both live and death animals at wet markets in countries around the world “as prime transmission locations for these pathogens.”
“The stress of transport and holding wild animals in these crowded markets where they are also sometimes slaughtered creates an unnatural environment where viruses from different species are able to come in contact, mutate, and spread from one species to another,” they wrote. “The viruses can subsequently spread or ‘spill over; into humans through handling and consumption of wildlife, potentially starting highly contagious outbreaks of new and deadly diseases for which we have no natural immunity — as we are currently seeing with COVID-19 and have seen with SARS, Ebola, monkeypox and Lass fever in the recent past.”
They added that “wet markets” pose “a threat to global public health because wildlife comes from many different locations without any standardized sanitary of health inspection processes.”
“The risk to food buyers can also be through the slaughter of animals in front of customers, releasing disease carrying fluids like blood, saliva, and excrement into the air, which can then splash or splatter on nearby people, be consumed or inadvertently inhaled by humans,” they wrote.
Booker and Graham cited scientists who estimate that approximately 60-75 percent of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic and that approximately 72 percent originate from wildlife. They also noted that “in the past 45 years, at least five pandemics have been traced back to bats.”
“In the case of SARS and the COVID-19 outbreak, bats were also the original hosts,” they wrote.
“It is clear that to protect human health, these close and sustained interactions with wildlife must stop,” they wrote. “While China has banned the trade and consumption of wild animals in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, there are significant loopholes relating to the current legal trade of wildlife for medicinal purposes. China took similar steps after the 2003 SARS outbreak, but ultimately lifted the restrictions after the outbreak came under control and perceived risk decreased.”
Booker and Graham, joined by more than 60 lawmakers, urged the health officials to “work with member states to ensure that live wildlife markets are closed permanently in all countries and that the international trade of live wildlife not intended for conservation purposes is banned.”
Animal Wellness Action Foundation, a nonprofit, “applauded” Booker, Graham, McCaul, Quigley for “their leadership in bringing Congress together to call for a global ban of the disgusting and infectious wet markets that have plagued the planet for far too long, and appreciate the tremendous support of all of the Members that joined in championing this effort.”
“All the evidence points to a nasty cesspool in Wuhan, China as the scene where COVID — 19 jumped the species barrier to the human race, killing nearly 100,000 to date, and crippling the global economy,” Animal Wellness Action said in a statement to Fox News. “It’s time to swiftly eradicate wet markets from the face of the earth for good.”
Meanwhile, McCaul sent a separate letter last month to the WHO demanding they work to end unsanitary practices at wildlife markets in China.
The calls to ban wet markets come as the positive cases of COVID-19 globally surpassed 1.5 million. As of Thursday, the United States reported more than 432,500 positive cases of the novel coronavirus and more than 14,800 deaths.