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A Politico article from Apr 3 says:

A growing chorus of voices is urging China to shut down the country’s so-called wet markets, which have come under heightened scrutiny for their role as potent breeding grounds for devastating outbreaks such as the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was the latest voice to weigh in, saying Friday that the international community should help force a global closure of the markets, arguing that the current public health crisis is a “direct result” of such unsanitary shopping places.

“I think we should shut down those things right away,” Fauci told “Fox & Friends.”

“It boggles my mind how when we have so many diseases that emanate out of that unusual human-animal interface, that we don’t just shut it down,” he said. “I don’t know what else has to happen to get us to appreciate that.”

The remarks from America’s top infectious disease expert come as lawmakers and health officials urge Beijing, in particular, to crack down on the marketplaces — where street vendors sell seafood, livestock and other animal products in packed, sometimes open-air environments that are often linked to the transmission of zoonotic viral infections.

Interestingly, there have been two interpretations given to his words. One was to infer he was talking only about wildlife, e.g. The Human Society quoted/interpreted him as saying

“It just boggles my mind that how when we have so many diseases that emanate out of that unusual human-animal interface that we don’t just shut [wildlife markets] down.”

(Brackets/substitution in original.)

More polemically, Their Turn interpreted the interview as a (missed) call to ban even live chicken trade in NYC. Their main complaint was that Fauci was only talking about Asia. They seem to have assumed he was talking about any live animal market otherwise.

While he did not specify the countries, he was referring to China, which is where COVID-19 is believed to have jumped from animal to human, and to other Asian countries that have similar wet markets that sell and slaughter live animals. Dr. Fauci made no mention of wet markets in the United States.

“Why would Dr. Fauci call on world leaders to pressure countries in Asia to shut down their wet markets without calling for the closure of live animal markets in his own country?” said Jill Carnegie, co-organizer of Slaughter Free NYC, an advocacy group working to shut down NYC’s 80+ wet markets and slaughterhouses. “Do we need to wait for an outbreak of a novel strain of bird flu or swine flu before shutting down these breeding grounds of infectious disease?”

Slightly complicating the picture, Fauci co-authored papers about avian influenzas and the (zoonosis) danger they pose to us.

So what was Fauci precisely talking about in there? Did he mean all live animal markets or just wildlife? Has he given any other statements on the matter that might shed light on this?


In re comments: Fox News website headline was:

Dr. Fauci says it's 'mind-boggling' that any of China's wet markets are still operating

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    I can't see it in the question: did Fauci use the phrase "wet markets" himself? Did the (Fox and Friends) interviewer? Or did the Politico article include Fauci's in a group of group similar statements with potentially a range of meanings? – Chris H Apr 20 at 14:18
  • @ChrisH: I don't know exactly what Fauci said, since I can't find an unedited version of his interview. Politico is clearly implying Fauci was talking about that, even though it's more likely the Fox interviewer rather than Fauci used the term. I'm not sure how to edit the q title to reflect that. – Fizz Apr 20 at 14:24
  • It's a pity news outlets don't cite their sources, isn't it? Trawling through Fox to track down the exact quote would be quite a task, if it can even be found. – Chris H Apr 20 at 14:27
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    @ChrisH: found it now; see edit. And Politico did have a link, but the link was dead. – Fizz Apr 20 at 14:28
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    It seems pretty clear that "Their Turn" (an "animal rights" organization) is deliberately misinterpreting Fauci's statement in order to try to hijack it for their unrelated purposes, which appear to include opposing eating meat on moral grounds. – reirab Apr 21 at 2:49
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So what was Fauci talking about precisely in there? Did he mean all live animal markets? Has he given any other statements on the matter that might shed light on this?

In a JAMA1 audio interview (transcript available), January 23, 2020, Dr. Fauci suggests "wild game".

HB: Is there something unique about the coronavirus that has allowed this jump?

AF: No. I don't think it's something unique about the coronavirus. It's something unique about the customs of people who have such close contact with animals, particularly exotic animals. So, let's quickly go through the three coronavirus outbreaks. In China, where for feast days they sacrifice and eat exotic animals like palm civets and racoon dogs, bats are the primary reservoir. They poop on or urinate on or what have you these animals or on food that's in the market. People come and get close contact with, if not consuming, these exotic animals and there you go. You have SARS. MERS did the same thing. The close interaction between the beloved camels and the people who take care of those camels.

That's how you get the transmission from the bat to the camel to the human. And now in the novel coronavirus, we don't know exactly what that animal was, but some animal, probably in a wet market where they bring in a variety of different types of wild game, and people sacrifice them, particularly around holidays like the lunar new year, it is totally not surprising that you're seeing the facilitation of this jump from the animal species to the human. [Emboldening added.]


1 Journal of the American Medical Association.

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A wet market means a specific thing in Asia - a wet market is a place for getting fresh, perishable produce. You could get vegetables, fruit, meat, and fish of the nonexotic variety. They tend to be fairly crammed, even in the case of well organised, modern ones, and are difficult to regulate.

I'm Singaporean and we invented the term - but practically, it's a large market designed for fresh food sales with lots of vendors. Practically, they often tend to have narrow passageways.

I wouldn't equate this with a provision shop or specialist grocer with a single store.

While Fauci may specifically refer to Chinese markets selling exotic food - the close proximity, large number of small stores and mix of different sorts of small stalls, even with discrete sectors probably makes it an epidemiologist's nightmare. More so with open air markets with less regulation than we do.

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    This might be a cultural thing, but what you describe as a wet market I would simply call market. They are quite common in western Europe as well (normally taking place on one specific day of the week, always in the same place, e.g. in my hometown it's on Tuesday). Is there any other special feature of wet markets that distinguishes them? – Denis Nardin Apr 20 at 11:48
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    @DenisNardin A "wet market" is specifically for fresh / perishable produce. A generic "market", such as you reference, can also so-called "dry goods" - include dried / preserved produce and non-edible items such as clothing, electronics, furniture, et cetera. Because the produce is fresh, it is often cooled with ice, which melts and makes the floor wet – Chronocidal Apr 20 at 12:25
  • @DenisNardin Well - practically, its a fixed space open all week. Least in singapore, where the term originated, it replaced open air and less regulated markets. – Journeyman Geek Apr 20 at 12:27
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    @Chronocidal I've seen markets in London with ice-cooled fish & seafood. – Robin Salih Apr 20 at 14:00
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    @RobinSalih Using London as an example, Billingsgate Fish Market is a "wet market", while Camdem Market is a "dry market" (it has 'fast food' and café shops, but doesn't really do fresh produce). Portobello Market is neither - it sells (or, rather, sold - COVID-19 is putting a bit of a damper on business) fresh Fruit and Vegetables, which count as "wet goods", but it also sells Clothing, Antiques, and other "dry goods". – Chronocidal Apr 20 at 14:49

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