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The West Blames the Wuhan Coronavirus on China’s Love of Eating Wild Animals. The Truth Is More Complex

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It was no secret to anyone in Wuhan that Huanan Seafood Market sold a lot more than its name suggested. While one side of the low-slung warren of stalls did primarily stock fish and shellfish, the other offered a cornucopia of spices, sundries and, if you knew where to look, beavers, porcupines and snakes.

“It was well-known for selling lots of weird, live animals,” says James, an English teacher who for five years lived a few hundred feet from the market, and who asks TIME to only use one name due to the sensitively of the situation. “So nobody was surprised at all when it emerged that the virus might have come from an unusual animal.”

Scientists have confirmed that the pneumonia-like disease, like around 70% of new human pathogens, was zoonotic or transmitted from an animal. But they are still investigating exactly what creature might be the source of the “novel coronavirus”—dubbed 2019-nCoV and belonging to the same family as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

As Wuhan coronavirus infection rates soar to more than 830 people across more than half a dozen nations—causing 26 deaths and leading to the unprecedented lockdown of 13 Chinese cities comprising more than 30 million people—researchers are examining China’s penchant for consuming wild animals and whether that ultimately played a role in the outbreak.

Noel Celis–AFP/GettyMembers of staff of the Wuhan Hygiene Emergency Response Team drive their vehicle as they leave the closed Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in the city of Wuhan, in Hubei, Province on January 11, 2020, where the Wuhan health commission said that the man who died from a respiratory illness had purchased goods.

The 2002-2003 SARS pandemic was eventually traced to civet cats sold in a similar style of wet market in southern Guandong province, and some foreign tabloids are circulating unsubstantiated claims that the Wuhan coronavirus originated from everything from bat soup to eating rats and live wolf pups.

It’s certainly true that many Chinese are obsessive about freshness. Even small supermarkets commonly have fish tanks where shoppers can purchase live seafood. (This reporter was once served slices of sashimi still attached to the carcass of a gasping fish.) Eating wild animals is also considered a luxury because of their rarity and cost, much like game is in the West. Some practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine also believe that eating exotic creatures can cure certain ailments and boost “male potency.”

“This is just part of Chinese culture,” says Yanzhong Huang, a public heath expert at the Council for Foreign Relations. “They love to eat anything alive.”

Wild animals are, of course, especially problematic because their murky provenience makes it difficult to ensure they are free of disease. For this very reason, health campaigns in Africa warn people against the consumption of “bush meat,” which has been linked to the spread of countless diseases, including HIV/Aids.

However, Adam Kamradt-Scott, associate professor specializing in global health security at the University of Sydney, says this way of thinking is often flawed. While scientists first thought that Ebola started with the consumption of bat meat in a village of south-eastern Guinea, they now believe that the two-year-old girl known as Child Zero was likely infected via bat droppings that contaminated an object she put in her mouth. MERS was also primarily spread from live camels to humans through association, rather than the eating of camel meat.

“It’s not simply a matter of the consumption of exotic animals per se,” says Kamradt-Scott. “So we need to be mindful of picking on or condemning cultural practices.”

Ultimately, though, experts say that it’s hard to downplay the problematic nature of “wet markets” (so named because of the large quantities of water used to slosh the floors), especially those that also sell live animals. A mixture of urine, feces and other bodily fluids from live, wild creatures ends up mixing with blood from butchered animals, providing ideal opportunities for viruses and bacteria to thrive.

Says Huang: “As long as there are still wet markets, we will continue to see these outbreaks popping up.”





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Former Brazilian President Lula Says Bolsonaro Must Change Dismissive Coronavirus Response

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(SAO PAULO) — In home isolation just months after his release from jail, Brazil’s former leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said Wednesday that President Jair Bolsonaro needs to change his dismissive approach to the new coronavirus or risk being forced from office before the end of his term in December 2022.

The former president known as Lula said in an interview with The Associated Press that Bolsonaro’s defiance of calls for social distancing hamper the efforts of governors and mayors to contain the virus.

He also argued Brazil may need to print money to protect low-income workers and keep people at home, a proposal sure to raise concern in a country with a history of hyperinflation and a sliding currency.

Da Silva, who governed between 2003 and 2010 at time when Brazil’s economy was strong, acknowledged that Bolsonaro is unlikely to heed growing opposition calls to step down and that there are not enough votes in congress for impeachment.

“Brazil’s society might not have the patience to wait until 2022, though,” da Silva said in a video call. “The same society that elected him has the right to remove this president when it notices he is not doing the things he promised. A president who has made mistakes and is creating a disaster. Bolsonaro, at this moment, is a disaster.”

Some people in several regions that voted massively for Bolsonaro in the 2018 elections are disillusioned with him, banging pots outside their homes in regular protests in the last two weeks. The president’s downplaying of the outbreak puts him at odds with almost all of the country’s 27 governors.

About 800 people have died from the COVID-19 disease in Brazil so far, and there are almost 16,000 confirmed cases, the most in Latin America. Brazil expects a peak in virus cases in late April or early May.

Last week, da Silva praised Sao Paulo Gov. João Doria, a former ally of the president, for imposing restrictions designed to curb the spread of the virus. Bolsonaro, who frequently refers to da Silva as a “former inmate,” then said in a radio interview that he feels embarrassed when conservative politicians who have turned on him during the crisis receive praise from the leftist leader.

“I am just recognizing those who have done a more effective job,” da Silva said, adding that Doria will remain a political adversary.

Da Silva, a 74-year-old cancer survivor, is in isolation with his girlfriend and two dogs in the city of São Bernardo do Campo, on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, since returning from a trip to Europe. He said he has not had any symptoms of the virus, nor been tested, and is meeting very few politicians. Most of his conversations are now online.

The former president said his 580 days in jail have helped him cope better with health recommendations to remain home. He is free while appealing corruption and money laundering convictions, which he says are politically motivated.

“I trained spiritually to live well. It is not easy to live in 15 square meters, seeing family once a week,” he said. “Now I am at home with my girlfriend Janja living with me. It is much better. I have space, people to talk to all the time.”

Bolsonaro has challenged recommendations of the World Health Organization and of his own health ministry on social distancing and other measures to curb the virus. He has repeatedly called COVID-19 “a little flu.”

Former president da Silva believes Brazil might need to print money to avoid the closing of businesses and social chaos. Brazil’s economy has suffered since 2015, with about 12 million people unemployed and three times as many people in the informal sector and working gigs.

“Those who need liquidity at this moment are poor people. They need it to buy soap, hand sanitizer. That’s who needs liquidity, not the Brazilian financial system,” he said. “To beat the coronavirus we need more state, more action from public authorities, from making new money and ensuring it reaches the hands of the people.”

Da Silva’s prescription runs counter to the ideology running through Bolsonaro’s administration, led by the University of Chicago-trained Economy Minister Paulo Guedes. After his appointment, he promised to shrink both the size and influence of the state through vast privatizations and by reining in state bank lending.

Since the outbreak, there has been some recognition of the need to provide financial relief. Among other things, state bank Caixa Economica Federal slashed interest rates on overdrafts and credit card installments, and the government allowed people to withdraw the equivalent of one month’s minimum wage from retirement accounts. It also approved monthly payments of $117 to help keep low-income workers afloat, which are expected to begin Thursday.

Still, it isn’t enough, da Silva said. He added that support for possibly printing money isn’t radical, but rather a necessary measure in a desperate circumstance.

“In a time of war you do things that aren’t normal because what matters is survival,” he said. “The coronavirus is an invisible enemy whose shape we know, but we still don’t know how to defeat it.”

Brazilian leftist politicians of different parties, including da Silva’s Workers’ Party, published a letter last week calling for Bolsonaro’s resignation over his management during the pandemic. The former president didn’t sign it, but said his views are clear.

“There’s no way out with Bolsonaro if he doesn’t change his behavior,” he said. “It would be much easier to apologize, admit he was wrong, tell the Brazilian people that he is sorry.”

____

Associated Press writer Maurico Savarese reported this story in Sao Paulo and AP writer David Biller reported from Rio de Janeiro.





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Rising European Cases Raise Doubts Over End to Lockdowns

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(Bloomberg) — A rise in new coronavirus infections in Germany, Italy and Spain is raising questions about the speed with which Europe can begin to relax its stringent restrictions on public life.Germany’s new coronavirus cases climbed the most in five days, according to figures Thursday from Johns Hopkins University. Italy said on Wednesday that it recorded 3,836 new coronavirus cases, the highest in three days, while in Spain they rose the most in four days. The U.K. reported a record number of coronavirus deaths as Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who remains in intensive care after contracting the virus, showed signs of improvement.“The number of new cases compels us to say that we have to keep our guard high, and maintain the behavior recommended by the experts to prevent the spread of the virus,” said Angelo Borrelli, head of Italy’s civil protection agency. Italy plans to extend its nationwide lockdown by two weeks, daily La Stampa reported Thursday.The increase in cases complicates efforts by European leaders to try and gradually ease the strict rules that have been put in place to slow the march of the pathogen. The restrictions are having a devastating impact on economies across the region, and countries like Germany and Italy are starting to look at how they can begin to relax some of the curbs.The impact of the lockdowns is becoming starkly evident, even in the region’s biggest economies. German output is expected to slump almost 10% in the April-June period, the most since records for quarterly data began in 1970, while the French economy shrank the most since World War II in the first quarter.For Italy, the weakest of the continent’s large economies and the country where the restrictions have been in place the longest, the impact is set to be even more dramatic.Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s government is preparing for a gradual exit from containment measures over the next several months, with some companies and shops possibly reopening as soon as early next week and other firms returning to work beginning May 4.Schools in Italy will likely remain closed until September. Subsequent steps to ease restrictions will depend on the spread of the disease remaining under control. The lockdown, in place since early March, has closed all non-essential activities and banned most movement.Decisive DaysIn Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to consult with regional premiers on April 15 on how soon and to what extent current restrictions can be eased.“We have had the first bits of positive news but it’s much too early to be over-confident or complacent,” Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said Thursday on DLF radio. “The days over Easter will be decisive and only then will we know whether we can begin with any easing.”Economic and social life will not be fully ramped up right from the start but it will be a step-by-step process, Altmaier said. Otherwise, there is a danger restrictions will have to be reimposed if the virus spread intensifies again, he warned.The timing of the end to the unprecedented restrictions imposed on hundreds of millions of Europeans is pitting government authorities against public health officials, who say talk of an exit is too early as the hardest-hit nations are only beginning to slow the spread of the disease.After the emergence of new infections on Wednesday, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control warned countries not to rush into lifting restrictions.“Based on the available evidence, it is currently too early to start lifting all community and physical distancing measures” in Europe, the agency said. “Sustained transmission of the virus is to be expected if current interventions are lifted too quickly.”The continent has been hit hard, suffering more than 65% of worldwide deaths and Spain, Italy, France and Germany trailing only the U.S. in infections.Careful MerkelMerkel has been careful to say that while her government is looking at options for re-opening, for now citizens should remain indoors. Restrictive measures in the country ban gatherings of more than two people, with exceptions for families.France, which has reported more than 112,000 infections, plans to extend confinement rules beyond April 15, and President Emmanuel Macron will address the nation on Monday for the third time since the virus outbreak.In Spain, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will ask parliament on Thursday for approval to extend a state of emergency through April 25. The country will return to normal life gradually after that, although experts are still working on how that process will work, Maria Jesus Montero, budget minister and government spokeswoman, told broadcaster Antena 3.The European Commission warned against hasty exits from mass isolation, saying that such measures can be reversed only when the disease’s spread has “significantly decreased for a sustained period of time.”“Any level of (gradual) relaxation of the confinement will unavoidably lead to a corresponding increase in new cases,” the Commission said, according to a draft of an internal memo seen by Bloomberg.(Updates with German figures starting in second paragraph)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.



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Former Brazilian President Lula Says Bolsonaro Must Change Dismissive Coronavirus Response

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(SAO PAULO) — In home isolation just months after his release from jail, Brazil’s former leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said Wednesday that President Jair Bolsonaro needs to change his dismissive approach to the new coronavirus or risk being forced from office before the end of his term in December 2022.

The former president known as Lula said in an interview with The Associated Press that Bolsonaro’s defiance of calls for social distancing hamper the efforts of governors and mayors to contain the virus.

He also argued Brazil may need to print money to protect low-income workers and keep people at home, a proposal sure to raise concern in a country with a history of hyperinflation and a sliding currency.

Da Silva, who governed between 2003 and 2010 at time when Brazil’s economy was strong, acknowledged that Bolsonaro is unlikely to heed growing opposition calls to step down and that there are not enough votes in congress for impeachment.

“Brazil’s society might not have the patience to wait until 2022, though,” da Silva said in a video call. “The same society that elected him has the right to remove this president when it notices he is not doing the things he promised. A president who has made mistakes and is creating a disaster. Bolsonaro, at this moment, is a disaster.”

Some people in several regions that voted massively for Bolsonaro in the 2018 elections are disillusioned with him, banging pots outside their homes in regular protests in the last two weeks. The president’s downplaying of the outbreak puts him at odds with almost all of the country’s 27 governors.

About 800 people have died from the COVID-19 disease in Brazil so far, and there are almost 16,000 confirmed cases, the most in Latin America. Brazil expects a peak in virus cases in late April or early May.

Last week, da Silva praised Sao Paulo Gov. João Doria, a former ally of the president, for imposing restrictions designed to curb the spread of the virus. Bolsonaro, who frequently refers to da Silva as a “former inmate,” then said in a radio interview that he feels embarrassed when conservative politicians who have turned on him during the crisis receive praise from the leftist leader.

“I am just recognizing those who have done a more effective job,” da Silva said, adding that Doria will remain a political adversary.

Da Silva, a 74-year-old cancer survivor, is in isolation with his girlfriend and two dogs in the city of São Bernardo do Campo, on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, since returning from a trip to Europe. He said he has not had any symptoms of the virus, nor been tested, and is meeting very few politicians. Most of his conversations are now online.

The former president said his 580 days in jail have helped him cope better with health recommendations to remain home. He is free while appealing corruption and money laundering convictions, which he says are politically motivated.

“I trained spiritually to live well. It is not easy to live in 15 square meters, seeing family once a week,” he said. “Now I am at home with my girlfriend Janja living with me. It is much better. I have space, people to talk to all the time.”

Bolsonaro has challenged recommendations of the World Health Organization and of his own health ministry on social distancing and other measures to curb the virus. He has repeatedly called COVID-19 “a little flu.”

Former president da Silva believes Brazil might need to print money to avoid the closing of businesses and social chaos. Brazil’s economy has suffered since 2015, with about 12 million people unemployed and three times as many people in the informal sector and working gigs.

“Those who need liquidity at this moment are poor people. They need it to buy soap, hand sanitizer. That’s who needs liquidity, not the Brazilian financial system,” he said. “To beat the coronavirus we need more state, more action from public authorities, from making new money and ensuring it reaches the hands of the people.”

Da Silva’s prescription runs counter to the ideology running through Bolsonaro’s administration, led by the University of Chicago-trained Economy Minister Paulo Guedes. After his appointment, he promised to shrink both the size and influence of the state through vast privatizations and by reining in state bank lending.

Since the outbreak, there has been some recognition of the need to provide financial relief. Among other things, state bank Caixa Economica Federal slashed interest rates on overdrafts and credit card installments, and the government allowed people to withdraw the equivalent of one month’s minimum wage from retirement accounts. It also approved monthly payments of $117 to help keep low-income workers afloat, which are expected to begin Thursday.

Still, it isn’t enough, da Silva said. He added that support for possibly printing money isn’t radical, but rather a necessary measure in a desperate circumstance.

“In a time of war you do things that aren’t normal because what matters is survival,” he said. “The coronavirus is an invisible enemy whose shape we know, but we still don’t know how to defeat it.”

Brazilian leftist politicians of different parties, including da Silva’s Workers’ Party, published a letter last week calling for Bolsonaro’s resignation over his management during the pandemic. The former president didn’t sign it, but said his views are clear.

“There’s no way out with Bolsonaro if he doesn’t change his behavior,” he said. “It would be much easier to apologize, admit he was wrong, tell the Brazilian people that he is sorry.”

____

Associated Press writer Maurico Savarese reported this story in Sao Paulo and AP writer David Biller reported from Rio de Janeiro.





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