A chef looks out from behind a display of food products at a restaurant in Beijing. File /AP
China's top legislative committee on Monday began deliberating a draft proposal on thoroughly banning all trade and consumption of wild animals to safeguard public health and ecological security. The practice believed responsible for the country's deadly coronavirus outbreak which affected at least 79,356 with the death toll at 2,619 globally.
The official Xinhua news agency said the proposal was submitted to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC). "It aims to completely ban the eating of wild animals and crack down on illegal wildlife trade and,” it said.
Chinese health officials have said the virus likely emerged from a market in the central city of Wuhan that sold wild animals as food.
Late last month after the epidemic began exploding across the country, China ordered a temporary ban "until the national epidemic situation is over".
The new coronavirus has killed 2,592 people in China, infected some 77,000 so far and paralysed its economy and has spread to at least two dozen countries.
Conservationists accuse China of tolerating a shadowy trade in exotic animals for food or use in traditional medicines whose efficacy is not confirmed by science.
China instituted a similar temporary ban after the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus killed hundreds of people in China and Hong Kong in 2002-03 and was also traced to wild-animal consumption. But the wildlife trade soon resumed.
Health experts say it poses a significant and growing public health risk by exposing humans to dangerous animal-borne pathogens.
The exact source of the coronavirus remains unconfirmed, with scientists variously speculating it originated in bats, pangolins, or some other mammal.
Scientists say SARS likely originated in bats, later reaching humans via civets.
Civets, a cat-like creature, were among dozens of species listed as for sale by one of the merchants at the Wuhan market according to a price list that circulated on China's internet.
Other items included rats, snakes, giant salamanders and live wolf pups.
McDonald's CEO Chris Kempczinski called the situation "fluid" and "concerning," and said the chain decided to close all of its restaurants in Hubei, which amount to "several hundred."
The domestic outbreak in China — where the disease first emerged last year -- had largely been brought under control but then a fresh batch of cases was detected in the capital last week.
South Korea was among the earliest countries to be hit outside China -- where the coronavirus first emerged -- and for a time had the world's second-largest outbreak before it was largely brought under control through a widespread testing drive.
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