Sen. Lindsey Graham issued a public ultimatum Tuesday to the Chinese government and international community regarding the live animal markets believed to be responsible for the global COVID-19 outbreak.
Indignant in a Fox News television spot, Graham told American audiences he would soon be drafting a letter to the Chinese foreign ministry and World Health Organization demanding the “disgusting” wet markets be permanently shuttered.
The consequences for Chinese inaction, the South Carolina Republican warned, would be renewal of Western economic pressures placed on the nation.
“These wet markets are gross, they’re just absolutely disgusting, selling exotic animals that transmit viruses from animals to human beings,” Graham said. “Those things need to shut down.”
“I’m going to write a letter to the Chinese ambassador saying, ‘If you don’t shut those wet markets down, our trading relationship is going to change,’” the senator added.
Now deemed a pandemic by global health officials, the COVID-19 outbreak began at the turn of the new year in China, infecting nearly 70,000 people in the first month and prompting local quarantine in the nation before eventually spreading to the rest of the world, according to Nature.
By late January, as the disease began its near-exponential global spread, NPR and other outlets began reporting the virus’ most likely origin had been pinpointed to a massive, well-traveled wet market in the city of Wuhan.
Medical experts on the ground indicated at the time that Huanan Seafood Market had been the only major common denominator between those individuals admitted to Wuhan hospitals with the first known cases of the virus.
Virologists and medical researchers suggest that as a newly discovered strain of coronavirus, COVID-19 is more than likely a zoonotic virus, having originated in bats and spread to other animals within the market before making the jump to humans.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome, an illness similarly born of the coronavirus family and the subject of the 21st century’s first global health scare, was also believed to initially spread from bats to humans in China, Business Insider reported.
According to a February study conducted by virologists in the region, SARS and COVID-19 share roughly 80 percent of their genetic makeup. Further, a COVID-19’s genetic composition is “96% identical at the whole-genome level to a bat coronavirus.”
The 2002 SARS scare amounted to just 8,000 confirmed cases and fewer than 1,000 deaths, however. The outbreak was largely contained to Asia at the time.
COVID-19 has infected nearly 900,000 people worldwide in just three months, according to Johns Hopkins. The virus has killed 42,032.
“The markets have gone back to operating in exactly the same way as they did before coronavirus.”
The only difference? Security guards to stop people from taking pictures.
— Washington Examiner (@dcexaminer) March 30, 2020
VIDEO: In the Chinese city of Wuhan, the wet market that spawned the pandemic now slumbers quietly behind a tidy-looking partition.
Chinese disease control officials have previously identified wild animals sold in the market as the source of the coronavirus pandemic. pic.twitter.com/Aj0Uvhoi9Y
— AFP news agency (@AFP) March 31, 2020
Closed alongside all other Chinese wet markets in light of the initial outbreak, Huanan Seafood Market has been permanently shuttered after further review from Chinese Communist Party officials, Business Insider reported.
According to the U.K. Daily Mail, however, other Chinese wet markets are already being reopened — and bat is still on the menu. Also sold in these live animal markets are cats, dogs, snakes and scorpions.
Hygiene standards are reportedly low across many such markets, with displayed animals crammed into small, rusty cages by the dozen and blood from recent slaughters soaking the floors.
And it is exactly those practices, Graham said Tuesday, that are in desperate need of rethinking by Chinese officials in light of the ongoing epidemic.
“About the last three or four pandemics have come from the Chinese wet markets,” Graham said. “When you have doctors who come on and ask them how many diseases have come from China through these wet markets where you intermingle all kinds of exotic animals, it’s just really a gross display of how you prepare food. That needs to stop.”
“What can China do to help the world? Shut those markets down.”