Here’s one more issue to add to the bonfire of tensions with China brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. The country is reportedly reopening its wet markets, the fresh produce stalls associated with Covid-19’s early spread in Wuhan.
It’s understandable that countries now in the grip of the first wave of infection might be outraged. Many blame wet markets for starting the outbreak in the first place. Opening them again, at a moment when thousands are dying overseas, seems emblematic of Beijing’s increasingly chauvinistic approach to world affairs.
Animals in wet markets are penned and slaughtered or sold live right next to stalls selling fruit and vegetables. Conditions, as my colleague Adam Minter has written, are often less than hygienic.
Places where a range of common and exotic animals mix together while bodily fluids flow freely may seem a fertile breeding ground for the virulent novel diseases that cross the species barrier to humans and occasionally become pandemics.
At the same time, let’s put the outrage on pause. Wet markets are increasingly losing ground to supermarkets in China. If they’re showing resilience as suppliers of fresh goods, it’s precisely because consumers regard them as a healthier and more sustainable alternative.