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The United Nations Health Department on Tuesday called on countries to suspend sales of live animals caught from the wild in food markets as an emergency measure. Wildlife is one of the main sources of emerging infectious diseases such as the coronavirus.

The World Health Organization, supported by key partners, issued new guidelines that animals – especially wild animals – are “the source of more than 70 percent of all new infectious diseases in humans, many of which are caused by novel viruses”.

The origins of the coronavirus more than a year ago have been the source of intense speculation. Much of this revolved around the likelihood that it was transmitted by bats and passed on to humans via an intermediate species sold as food or medicine in traditional Chinese wet markets. The pandemic first occurred in the city of Wuhan, China.

The WHO highlighted the risk of newly emerging infectious diseases being transmitted directly to humans in contact with body fluids of an infected animal and noted the “additional risk” of ingesting it in places where such animals are housed or in places that could be contaminated with such viruses.

“Globally, traditional markets can play a central role in supplying large populations with food and livelihoods,” the WHO said in a statement. “However, banning the sale of animals can protect the health of people – both those who work there and those who shop there.”

In its analysis, the WHO joined the World Organization for Animal Health and the United Nations Environment Program and led to the new recommendations.

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