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The market occupied over 50,000 m2 (540,000 sq ft) and had over 1,000 tenants. It is reported to have been the largest seafood wholesale market in Central China, with wild animals sold in its western zone. The market was located in the newer part of the city near shops and apartment blocks, within a couple of blocks from Hankou railway station.
In late 2019, the market passed city official inspections according to The Wall Street Journal. However, Time reported it to have "unsanitary" conditions. It had narrow lanes and stalls in close proximity, where livestock were kept alongside dead animals. According to Business Insider, it was common to see animals openly slaughtered and carcasses skinned in the market. The New York Times reported that "sanitation was dismal with poor ventilation and garbage piled on wet floors."
With local demand present for the consumption of exotic animals, the market also offered bushmeat (ye wei in Chinese) and other wild animals for sale, a feature uncommon in most Chinese wet markets. A price list posted by one vendor on the popular Chinese review site Dazhong Dianping listed 112 items including a number of wild animals. The South China Morning Post reported on 29 January 2020 that the market had a section selling around "120 wildlife animals across 75 species."
According to media reports, besides seafood,[a] various food items sold at the market include:
^In the circulated price list, the item described as "koala" is "树熊" (pinyin: shùxióng; literally: 'tree bear'), which may instead refer to a kind of beaver. Koalas are not found in China except in captivity.
In December 2019, an epidemic of a pneumonia cluster occurred in Wuhan. By 2 January 2020, a new strain of coronavirus, later determined to be SARS-CoV-2, was confirmed in an initial 41 people hospitalized with the pneumonia, two-thirds of whom had direct exposure to the market. As coronaviruses (like SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV) mainly circulated among the animals and with a link between the pneumonia outbreak and the market being established, it was suspected that the virus may have been passed from an animal to humans (zoonosis). Snakes or bats were initially suggested to be the source of the virus, considering the variety of wild animals sold at the market. although it remains unclear if bats were sold there. The later studies suggested that pangolins may be the intermediate host of the virus originating from bats. However, although it is generally agreed that bats are the origin, pangolin as an intermediate host is as yet unconfirmed.
Despite the important role that the market played in the pandemic, it is yet unclear whether the novel coronavirus outbreak started in the market. The earliest date for first symptoms was reported on 1 December 2019 in a person who did not have any exposure to the market or to the remaining affected 40 people. A paper from a large group of Chinese researchers from several institutions, published in The Lancet, offered details about the first 41 hospitalised patients who had confirmed infections with 2019-nCoV. Their data showed 13 of the initial 41 people found with the novel coronavirus had no link with the market, a significant figure according to infectious diseases specialist Daniel Lucey. In a later publication, The Lancet reported that of the first 99 people confirmed with COVID-19 in Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital between 1 and 20 January 2020, 49 had a history of exposure to the market. The publication nevertheless did not opine on whether the market was the origin or just a key link in the epidemic.
In a pursuit to discover the origin of SARS-CoV-2, samples from the market's animals were also taken between 1 and 12 January 2020. In late January 2020, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that the virus was found in 33 out of 585 of environmental samples taken, 31 of which came from the area of the market where wildlife was particularly found. This was another indication of the role that the market played, but as yet there has been no official declaration of this site as the origin of the epidemic. A review published on 24 January 2020, noted that the market was not associated with any COVID-19 cases outside of China.
On 1 January 2020, in response to the initial outbreak of the pneumonia cluster, the health authorities closed the market to conduct investigations, clean and disinfect the location. At the time, state-run Xinhua News Agency reported that it was being closed for renovations.
Ban on wild animal trade
On 22 January 2020, a ban on the sale of all wild animal products in Wuhan was announced.
On 24 February 2020, the Chinese government announced that the trade and consumption of wild animals would be banned throughout China, amidst mounting domestic criticism of the industry. The ban though does not cover the consumption of wild animal products in Traditional Chinese Medicine, according to the New York Times.
^Ji, Wei; Wang, Wei; Zhao, Xiaofang; Zai, Junjie; Li, Xingguang (22 January 2020). "Homologous recombination within the spike glycoprotein of the newly identified coronavirus may boost cross-species transmission from snake to human". Journal of Medical Virology. n/a (n/a): 433–440. doi:10.1002/jmv.25682. ISSN1096-9071. PMID31967321.