The World Health Organization said Friday that although a market in the Chinese city of Wuhan selling live animals likely played a significant role in the emergence of the new coronavirus, it does not recommend that such markets be shut down globally.

In a press briefing, WHO food safety and animal diseases expert Peter Ben Embarek said live animal markets are critical to providing food and livelihoods for millions of people globally and that authorities should focus on improving them rather than outlawing them - even though they can sometimes spark epidemics in humans.

"Food safety in these environments is rather difficult and therefore it's not surprising that sometimes we also have these events happening within markets," Ben Embarek said.

He said reducing the risk of disease transmission from animals to humans in these often overcrowded markets could be addressed in many cases by improving hygiene and food safety standards, including separating live animals from humans. He added that it is still unclear whether the market in Wuhan linked to the first several dozens of coronavirus cases in China was the actual source of the virus or merely played a role in spreading the disease further.
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