By William J. Furney
With over 5,500 people dead and nearly 148,000 cases of infection (including yours truly, and it was relentless and brutal) worldwide so far, and rapidly climbing, because people in China apparently bought bats, snakes and other potentially hazardous animals at a wet market for consumption, it’s time the world demanded that Beijing shutter these traditional bazaars that have been responsible for rolling and deadly health crises, including SARS and avian influenza, or bird flu.
“Many initial patients were exposed to wildlife animals at the Huanan seafood wholesale market, where poultry, snake, bats and other farm animals were also sold,” says a research paper in the Journal of Medical Virology of the current novel coronavirus outbreak and its suspected origin in the central city of Wuhan.
Scientists Wei Ji, Wei Wang Xiaofang Zhao, Junjie Zai and Xingguang Li — all working at universities in China, including in Wuhan, where the novel coronavirus emerged late last year — said their research suggested that Covid-19 “has most similar genetic information with bat coronavirus”.
Bats are known viral reservoirs, carrying everything from rabies to the terrifying Marburg virus and its 90% fatality rate. The fact that they, along with snakes and all kinds of exotic creatures, including pangolins, are still being allowed for sale at city markets across China (some for sexual dysfunction and enhancement) is a horrifying reflection of the authorities’ failure to provide any kind of public safety measures for its nearly 1.4 billion people.
The Chinese scientists’ research concluded that the “results derived from our evolutionary analysis suggest that [Covid-19) has most similar genetic information with bat coronavirus and has [related genetic code] with snake”.
It’s a case of a pathogen that the human population of the world has no immunity from, because we’ve never before had it in our bodies, jumping from a species it was perfectly content living in to a whole new one in which it has unleashed death and havoc on a global scale.
The World Health Organisation, which only this week declared the new coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic, when it’s been blindingly obvious for weeks, if not longer, that that’s exactly what it is, was the first to put its begging bowl out when virulent virus started erupting, and, typically, has done precious little to stem the transmission.
Instead, the highly paid WHO folk prefer to hold comfy press conferences from their headquarters in Geneva, a Swiss city dripping in luxury. They did manage to label the bug Covid-19, because the cosseted officials thought it was more politically correct than a disease with a name that could be linked to China (even though it obviously is). If ever this United Nations body needed a thorough check-up, it’s now.
Bumbling WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus — a 55-year-old, pressured-looking Ethopian who is the first African head of the global health body — has been reduced to issuing bombastic cliches. At the most recent media briefing, yesterday, he wimply said: “Don’t let this fire burn.” And again stating the obvious, he told us that Europe was now the “epicentre” of the coronavirus outbreak.
Various parts of China, such as Shenzhen, may now be starting to ban people from eating animals such as dogs and cats — dogs are a cheap sort of protein in some parts of Asia, including Indonesia, where they are sold at roadside stalls as satay. I know this because one of my household staff in Bali eats dog satay, or at least used to (they say black dogs are tastiest, and if you own one, you’d better look out, as it might disappear). The local officials have drawn up a list of permitted meats that includes chicken, beef, pork, rabbits and seafood, and also banned turles, frogs and snakes as food for human consumption, the Shenzhen Special Zone Daily newspaper reported.
Underscoring the extent to which some Chinese eat just about any creature, the Shenzhen authorities said there were too many wild animals to list that should be banned. This follows moves in Beijing to outlaw the sale and consumption of wild animals nationwide.
To its credit, the authoritarian regime that is the ruling Chinese Communist Party, which brutally deprives its people of the otherwise freely available information on the internet, shared the novel coronavirus’ genome with researchers worldwide, allowing for what it’s hoped will soon be a viable treatment and eventual vaccine, unless it mutates further.
But the mandarins in Beijing have to go further and close down the country’s wet markets — or at the very least heavily regulate and closely monitor them, to ensure no risky animals are available for sale and consumption — because the world cannot afford another bout of this viral devastation.
China may be a world unto itself but, increasingly, what happens there sends brutal shockwaves around the world.
- Title image, showing a map of countries affected by the novel coronavirus: Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center