According to Australia’s SBS news article Morrison chides WHO as wet markets reopen in China's coronavirus epicentre, the WHO has endorsed live animal markets re-opening in China. If the PM of Australia was misrepresenting the situation, SBS would have noted that, as would the WHO. The WHO has noted that China has banned the sale of live wild animals, which implies that the sale of non-wild live animals, and non-living wild animals, remains legal.

Some of the article cited talks about live animals, and some of it talks about "wet markets" - I've avoided the use of "wet markets" because it's a term whose use or misuse has been criticised, and I see little upside in using the term.

Australia's prime minister has berated the World Health Organization for supporting China's decision to reopen live animal markets amid the global coronavirus pandemic.


The World Health Organization said wet markets are crucial sources of food and should be allowed to continue trading.

“But it is necessary to regulate them and introduce measures to decrease the risk of transmission of diseases at them,” the WHO told SBS News in a statement.

“With adequate facilities, proper regulation and good hygiene practices it is possible to have safe food sold in wet markets.”

The WHO said markets selling live wild animals have been banned in China since February.

“It is WHO’s understanding that these laws continue to be enforced through provincial and municipal authorities under central government oversight,” the statement said.

I don't want to ask about why the WHO has endorsed the reopening of live animal markets, because it's hard to prove a negative that China hasn't been unduly influencing WHO's statements. Instead, I want to know what expert advice has been produced in evaluating the re-opening of live animal markets - in theory, proving a positive should be easier than proving a negative.

For those interested in whether or not China has been unduly influencing the WHO, the question What was WHO's defence from US Republican attacks that the WHO "really blew" their response to the pandemic by being "slow" and "deceptive"? is probably the best question touching upon that.

What expert advice has gone into WHO’s endorsement of reopening wet markets in China?

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    The text quoted indicates that the WHO does not endorse reopening live animals markets in China so your question seems to be pointless.
    – Relaxed
    Apr 17, 2020 at 21:50
  • 3
    Funnily someone on med SE is worried about the virus propagating in frozen meat factories in the US and thought live markets are the alternative... Apr 17, 2020 at 22:49
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    @AndrewGrimm Actually, I downvoted your version but the new one is more reasonable.
    – Relaxed
    Apr 18, 2020 at 0:47
  • 6
    Since there’s debate on the edits, I made the change because the article OP quoted said that the WHO supported allowing wet markets to reopen. OP, like most people (myself included, before doing some research), assumed this meant live animal markets, but that’s not the case. Live animal sales are just one thing that happens at wet markets, and the article they linked says that the WHO supports reopening wet markets without live animal sales. The distinction between the two is key to understanding why they have that position.
    – divibisan
    Apr 18, 2020 at 2:09
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    Side remark: It's not even clear that the outbreak started at a wet market it might have just been a place where it got spread around. I had something from a more scientific site, but this has the gist of it: businessinsider.de/international/… So it's unclear whether wet markets are any more "dangerous" than any other market. So, given the Chinese infection numbers, it's likely a valid calculated risk move to open some form of markets again. Same as some western countries discuss what to reopen when. Apr 18, 2020 at 18:52

2 Answers 2


According to the article you linked to, “Wet market” doesn’t mean a live animal market - it means a market selling fresh food and produce, which sometimes also includes animals:

Wet markets sell fresh food and produce - as opposed to 'dry' goods such as clothing - and some stock live animals such as chickens as well as seafood and livestock.


Banning wet markets altogether would be like banning farmers markets. The WHO position is that, instead, we should ban wild animal sales and institute regulations to improve safety and cleanliness

“With adequate facilities, proper regulation and good hygiene practices it is possible to have safe food sold in wet markets.”

The WHO said markets selling live wild animals have been banned in China since February


The WHO is has praised China's entire handling of the virus, no matter how questionable it was, so expecting otherwise in this case is unreasonable. That isn't the topic I came here to explain, so I'll leave it at that.

People above claim that the reopened wet markets do not contain live animals. They do. They also contain open air raw meat. But that's not the problem. The problem is the public exposure to live animals and raw meat and the low standards of sanitation. The problem is the enormous variety of available animals with a history of high animal to human disease transmission. The problem is a lack of regard for what part of the animal is eaten, when cooked whole, you're potentially exposed to everything that animal has eaten and diseases transmissible through the nervous tissue.

Here's a reopened wet market with live animals, food exposed to everyone walking by, food prepared in porous containers touching the ground, food prepared by people incorrectly wearing masks, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lv03sSi-Z6Q. Yeah it's seafood, which is lower risk, but it is the first search result I found, so I wonder how much research the people claiming there's no live animals did.

For diseases to jump from an animal to a person, a high surface area greatly increases the likelihood. If you have 25 animals that get exposed to three people, the farmer, the butcher, and the buyer, that's a risk of 25 * 3 = 75. If you have a cage with 25 chickens on the front counter of your store, and 5000 people walk by them a day, your risk factor for animal to human respiratory transmission is 250 * 5000 = 1,250,000. Over a million chances daily for a disease to jump species with a single vendor. Here's a video of that sort of scenario in a pre-lockdown wet market: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nh79zJJt6GU

To be perfectly clear, the videos I've linked are on the upper end of how clean these markets are. I've seen food butchered on the cement, with people walking through the draining blood as it makes it's way to the gutter. But that's not the norm, that's a poverty and lack of education problem. My point is that even on a good day these places are the bleeding edge of animal to human transmission.

The other thing I must emphasize is that many of the major plagues in history started with animal to human transmission. Mostly food animals and parasites carried by animals, both are a risk in these markets.

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    There’s no one denying that China has serious food safety issues, but do you have any evidence that the WHO supports those kind of unsafe conditions?
    – divibisan
    Apr 19, 2020 at 0:12
  • @divibisan The first sentence, "The WHO is has praised China's entire handling of the virus, no matter how questionable it was, so expecting otherwise in this case is unreasonable." would be on-topic for the version of the question you edited it to, but wouldn't have been on-topic for the versions I wrote.
    – Golden Cuy
    Apr 19, 2020 at 0:29
  • @gunfulker Wet market does not mean live market and it is not inherently unsanitary. There are outdoor fresh food markets in every country - in the US people pay a premium to shop there. The key is sanitation and food safety regulation. With that, markets are safe, without that and even fancy supermarket are deadly. The WHO is clear that regulation is necessary and standards must be improved, and the larger food safety problems can’t just be swept under the rug by closing a few markets
    – divibisan
    Apr 19, 2020 at 2:31
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    @divisiban Yes, my evidence is that they didn't condemn it. It claims it's goal is "the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health." Their statement is not that. It's not "food safety issues", animal to human exposure is an intrinsic part of how these markets function. It's not a matter of making some adjustments, the only way forward is to remove the animals from the population centers and to reduce the variety of unsafe animals. I don't care what "wet market" might technically also include, I've made it clear what I'm talking about.
    – gunfulker
    Apr 19, 2020 at 2:52

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