The Huanan Seafood Market in the central city of Wuhan came under greater scrutiny on Wednesday as Chinese officials said that the virus which has so far killed nine people and infected hundreds may have originated in a wild animal sold at the food emporium.
Past deadly epidemics have been blamed on wild animals — Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was linked to Chinese consumption of civet meat — setting Chinese authorities up for potential embarrassment if lax supervision of wildlife trafficking is found at fault in the latest outbreak.
A price list circulating on China’s internet for a business at the Wuhan market lists a menagerie of animals or animal-based products including live foxes, crocodiles, wolf puppies, giant salamanders, snakes, rats, peacocks, porcupines, camel meat and other game — 112 items in all.
“Freshly slaughtered, frozen and delivered to your door,” said the price list for the vendor, “Wild Game Animal Husbandry for the Masses”.
Gao Fu, director of the Chinese center for disease control and prevention, said in Beijing on Wednesday that authorities believe the virus likely came from “wild animals at the seafood market” though the exact source remains undetermined.
China bans the trafficking of a number of wild species or requires special licenses, but regulations are loose for some species if they are commercially farmed.
AFP was unable to directly confirm the authenticity of the price list. Phone calls to the vendor went unanswered, and attempts to connect to its social media accounts were rejected.
The Beijing News published a photo Tuesday showing the same vendor’s now-shuttered storefront, as authorities in white hazmat suits milled about.
The paper also quoted other merchants as saying trade in wildlife took place up until the market was shuttered for disinfection shortly after the outbreak.
A number of the early sufferers of the virus, now known as the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), were employees of the market.