BEIJING: China on Sunday (Jan 26) banned wildlife trade nationwide in markets, supermarkets, restaurants, and e-commerce platforms due to the coronavirus outbreak, the country's market watchdog, agricultural ministry, and forestry bureau said in a joint statement.
Raising, transporting or selling all wild animal species is forbidden "from the date of the announcement until the national epidemic situation is over," said a joint directive from three top agencies including the Ministry of Agriculture.
Snakes, peacocks, crocodiles and other species can also be found for sale via Taobao, an e-commerce website run by Alibaba.
Any places that breed wildlife should be isolated, said the statement.
The ban will take effect from Sunday.
The virus, which has infected more than 2,000 people globally and killed 56 people in China, has been traced to a seafood market in Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife.
It has spread to Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai, as well as to Singapore, the United States, Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Australia, France and Canada.
The World Health Organization this week stopped short of calling the outbreak a global health emergency, but some health experts question whether China can continue to contain the epidemic.
On Sunday, China confirmed 1,975 cases of patients infected with the new coronavirus as of Jan 25, while the death toll from the virus has risen to 56, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
The outbreak has prompted widening curbs on movements within China, with Wuhan, a city of 11 million, on virtual lockdown, with transports links all-but severed except for emergency vehicles.
Health authorities in Beijing urged people not to shake hands but instead salute using a traditional cupped-hand gesture. The advice was sent in a text message that went out to mobile phone users in the city on Sunday morning.
CANCELLATIONS AND MISTRUST
The outbreak has overshadowed the start of the Chinese New Year, which is typically a festive time of year, with public events cancelled and many tourist sites shut. Many people on social media have been calling for the week-long holiday to be extended to help prevent further spread of the virus.
WeChat, China's ubiquitous messaging app, warned that it could ban accounts spreading rumours.
China has called for transparency in managing the crisis, after a cover-up of the spread of the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002/2003 eroded public trust, but officials in Wuhan have been criticised for their handling of the current outbreak.
"People in my hometown all suspect the real infected patients number given by authorities," said Violet Li, who lives in the Wuhan district where the seafood market is located.
"I go out with a mask twice a day to walk the dog - that's the only outdoor activity," she told Reuters by text message.
Many cinemas across China are also closed with major film premieres postponed, slashing revenues. Theatres in the country took in just 1.81 million yuan (US$262,167) from tickets on Saturday, a tiny fraction of the 1.46 billion yuan on Chinese New Year's Day in 2019, according to data from movie-ticketing company Maoyan.
Cruise operators including Royal Caribbean Cruises, Costa Cruises, MSC Cruises and Astro Ocean Cruises said that they cancelled a combined 12 cruises that had been scheduled to embark from Chinese ports before Feb 2.
VIRUS SPREADING OUTSIDE CHINA
On Saturday, Hong Kong declared a virus emergency, scrapped celebrations and restricted links to mainland China.
Hong Kong Disneyland and the city's Ocean Park theme park were closed on Sunday. Shanghai Disneyland, which expected 100,000 visitors daily through the Chinese New Year holidays, has already closed.
In Hong Kong, with five confirmed cases, the city's leader Carrie Lam said on Saturday that flights and high speed rail trips between the city and Wuhan will be halted. Schools in Hong Kong that are currently on Chinese New Year holidays will remain closed until Feb 17.
On Saturday, Canada declared the first "presumptive" confirmed case of the virus in a resident who had returned from Wuhan. The patient, a male in his 50s, arrived in Toronto on Jan 22 and was hospitalised the next day after developing symptoms of respiratory illness, officials said.
Australia confirmed its first four cases on Saturday, Malaysia confirmed four and France reported Europe's first cases on Friday.
The newly identified coronavirus has created alarm because there are still many unknowns surrounding it, such as how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads between people. It can cause pneumonia, which has been deadly in some cases.
There are fears transmission could accelerate as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel during the holiday, although many have cancelled their plans and airlines and railways in China are providing full refunds for tickets.
Airports around the world have stepped up screening of passengers from China, although some health officials and experts have questioned the effectiveness of such screenings.
In an illustration of how such efforts could miss cases, doctors at a Paris hospital said two of the three Chinese nationals in France who have been diagnosed with the virus had arrived in the country without showing any symptoms.
A report by infectious disease specialists at Imperial College, London on Saturday said the epidemic "represents a clear and ongoing global health threat," adding: "It is uncertain at the current time whether it is possible to contain the continuing epidemic within China."
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