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Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market
Outside the market in March 2020, after it was closed
|Location||Jianghan, Wuhan, Hubei, China|
|Closing date||1 January 2020|
|Number of tenants||1,000+|
|Total retail floor area||50,000 m2 (540,000 sq ft)|
|Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market|
|Literal meaning||Wuhan South China Seafood Wholesale Market|
The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market (Chinese: 武汉华南海鲜批发市场), also known as the Huanan Seafood Market (Huanan means 'South China'), was a live animal and seafood market in Jianghan District, Wuhan, Hubei, China. The market gained media attention after being identified as a possible point of origin of COVID-19 and the resulting pandemic. The World Health Organization was notified on 31 December 2019 about an outbreak of pneumonia in Wuhan. Of the initial 41 people hospitalized with pneumonia who were officially identified as having laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection by 2 January 2020, two-thirds were exposed to the market. The market was closed on 1 January 2020 for sanitary procedures and disinfection. Thirty-three out of 585 environmental samples obtained from the market indicated evidence of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), according to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Facility and operations
The market occupied over 50,000 m2 (540,000 sq ft) and had over 1,000 tenants. It is reported to have been the largest seafood wholesale market in Central China, with wild animals sold in its western zone. The market was located in the newer part of the city, near shops and apartment blocks and about 800 meters (2,600 ft) from Hankou railway station.
In late 2019, the market passed city official inspections according to The Wall Street Journal. However, Time reported it to have "unsanitary" conditions. It had narrow lanes and stalls in close proximity, where livestock were kept alongside dead animals. According to Business Insider, it was common to see animals openly slaughtered and carcasses skinned in the market. The New York Times reported that "sanitation was dismal with poor ventilation and garbage piled on wet floors."
With local demand present for the consumption of exotic animals, the market also offered exotic game (ye wei in Chinese) and other wild animals for sale, a feature uncommon in most Chinese wet markets. A price list posted by one vendor on the popular Chinese review site Dazhong Dianping listed 112 items including a number of wild animals. The South China Morning Post reported on 29 January 2020 that the market had a section selling around "120 wildlife animals across 75 species."
It was incorrectly reported that koalas were sold at the market. The price list included "树熊" (pinyin: shùxióng; lit. 'tree bear'). This term is used for koalas in Chinese communities in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, but in China they are called "考拉" (read as "kaǒ lā"). At the Huanan market, 'tree bear' referred to large rodents.
Link to COVID-19
In December 2019, an epidemic of a pneumonia cluster occurred in Wuhan. By 2 January 2020, a new strain of coronavirus, later determined to be SARS-CoV-2, was confirmed in an initial 41 people hospitalized with the pneumonia, two-thirds of whom had direct exposure to the market. As coronaviruses (like SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV) mainly circulate among animals and with a link between the pneumonia outbreak and the market being established, it was suspected that the virus may have been passed from an animal to humans (zoonosis).
Bats were initially suggested to be the source of the virus, although it remains unclear if bats were sold there. Later studies hypothesized that pangolins may be the intermediate host of the virus originating from bats, analogous to the relationship between SARS-CoV and civets. Phylogenetic analysis indicates that pangolins are a potential reservoir host rather than the intermediate host of SARS-CoV-2. While there is scientific consensus that bats are the ultimate source of coronaviruses, SARS-CoV-2 originated from a pangolin, jumped back to bats, and then jumped to humans, according to phylogenetic analysis. Therefore, a specific population of bats is more likely to be the intermediate host for SARS-CoV-2 than a pangolin, while an evolutionary ancestor to bats was the source for general coronaviruses.
Despite the role that the market played in the pandemic, it is yet unclear whether the novel coronavirus outbreak started in the market. The earliest date for first symptoms was reported on 1 December 2019 in a person who did not have any exposure to the market or to the remaining affected 40 people. A paper from a large group of Chinese researchers from several institutions, published in The Lancet, offered details about the first 41 hospitalized patients who had confirmed infections with SARS-CoV-2. Their data showed 13 of the initial 41 people found with the novel coronavirus had no link with the market, a significant figure according to infectious diseases specialist Daniel Lucey. In a later publication, The Lancet reported that of the first 99 people confirmed with COVID-19 in Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital between 1 and 20 January 2020, 49 had a history of exposure to the market. The publication nevertheless did not opine on whether the market was the origin or just a key link in the epidemic.
In an attempt to discover the origin of SARS-CoV-2, samples from the market's animals were also taken between 1 and 12 January 2020. In late January 2020, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that the virus was found in 33 out of 585 of environmental samples taken, 31 of which came from the area of the market where wildlife was particularly found. This was another indication of the role that the market played, but its identification as the origin of the epidemic has been disputed. A review published on 24 January 2020, noted that the market was not associated with any COVID-19 cases outside of China.
In May 2020, George Gao, the director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said animal samples collected from the seafood market had tested negative for the virus, indicating that the market was the site of an early superspreading event, but it was not the site of the initial outbreak.
On 1 January 2020, in response to the initial outbreak of the pneumonia cluster, the health authorities closed the market to conduct investigations, clean and disinfect the location. At the time, state-run Xinhua News Agency reported that it was being closed for renovations.
A "wet market" is a marketplace selling fresh meat, fish, produce, and other perishable goods as distinguished from "dry markets" that sell durable goods such as fabric and electronics.
Ban on wild animal trade
Chinese environmentalists, researchers and state media have called for stricter regulation of exotic animal trade in wet markets. Several Chinese scientists have called for bans on wildlife trade since 2003.
On 24 February 2020, the Chinese government announced that the trade and consumption of wild animals would be banned throughout China, amidst mounting domestic criticism of the industry. The ban though does not cover the consumption of wild animal products in traditional Chinese medicine, according to the New York Times.
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