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WATCH: WHO addresses link between wet markets and coronavirus

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said wet markets like those in Wuhan widely linked to the emergence of the new coronavirus were often overcrowded, and good hygiene and food safety standards were not being met.

In a press briefing on Friday, WHO food safety and animal diseases expert Peter Ben Embarek suggested such markets were critical to providing food and livelihoods for millions of people globally and that authorities should focus on improving them rather than outlawing them.

“Food safety in these environments is rather difficult and therefore it’s not surprising that sometimes we also have these events happening within markets,” Ben Embarek said.

He suggested reducing the risk of disease transmission from animals to humans in these often overcrowded markets could be addressed in many cases by improving hygiene and food safety standards, including separating live animals from humans.

According to Ben Embarek, it might take considerable time to identify the original animal source for the new coronavirus.

He explained that extensive studies need to occur first, involving health officials carefully interviewing many of those infected in the early stages of the outbreak to narrow down what their interactions with animals were before they fell sick.

Scientists would then need to take samples from animals to find a close match to the coronavirus circulating in humans.

To date, China has not yet invited WHO or other external experts to be part of their investigation.

Embarek said while China likely has the necessary expertise to conduct such studies and has not noted any problems in China’s willingness to collaborate with others.

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