Wet markets in China's Wuhan struggle to survive coronavirus blow

Thomas Suen and Brenda Goh, Reuters

Posted at Apr 12 2020 01:48 PM

Wet markets in China's Wuhan struggle to survive coronavirus blow 1
A resident wearing a face mask is seen at a blocked residential area after the lockdown was lifted in Wuhan. Reuters

Merchants selling fish and vegetables at Wuhan's wet markets are reopening their stalls as the city's lockdown lifts but the future looks uncertain as few customers are coming out to buy and the stigma of the coronavirus remains strong.

The global coronavirus pandemic is believed to have originated in exotic animals on sale in the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, which was shut down in January and remains boarded up until now.

That has put China's wet markets, a key facet of the country's daily life, under heavy scrutiny even though only a small number sell wildlife. Some U.S. officials have called for them and others across Asia, to be closed.

Vendors argue that their seafood is fine as it is farmed and disinfected.

"This is a person to person virus no matter where you are," said Jin Qinzhi, a vegetable seller at a local wet market. "Even in the supermarket it is full of people. Here (at the outdoor market) people are more scattered. As long as we take proper precautions then it should be fine. And as long as we pay attention to disinfecting."

Despite the end of the lockdown earlier in the week amid a drop in new local cases, many curbs remain, preventing people from moving around freely.

"There is no business and no one is coming," said a worker who only gave her surname as Zhang as she chopped fish. "Everywhere is blocked and people cannot come in. Everyone is scared to go out and contract the virus."

Wet markets are a common sight across Asia and are traditionally places that sell live fish and meat and fresh produce out in the open. They tend to be popular with shoppers as the produce is perceived to be cheaper and fresher than products at supermarkets.

Officials in Wuhan said on Friday (April 10) the city will spend 200 million yuan ($28.4 million) to upgrade the city's 425 farmers' markets, as part of a campaign to improve hygiene. But still some worry they may not stay around long enough to see it.

"We don't have any income and business," said Jin. "If it goes on like this it will be very difficult for us to survive."

On April 11, mainland China reported 99 new coronavirus infections, more than double from the previous day. Almost all of the new infections, the -- the biggest daily count since March 6 -- involve travellers from overseas. The country's tally of infections now stands at 82,052 while the death toll stands at 3,339.