Coronavirus outbreak: China issues temporary ban on wildlife trade

China has temporarily banned the trade of wild animals as authorities scramble to contain the spread of a pneumonia-like virus that has killed at least 80 people and infected nearly 2,000 others.

The ban prohibits the transportation of wildlife or its sale in markets and online. Authorities said it will “strengthen inspections and severely investigate and punish those who are found in violation of the provisions of this announcement,” according to a Sunday announcement of the ban by three government agencies.

It will remain in place until the "epidemic situation is lifted nationwide," the government said of the coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV, that began in the city of Wuhan.

AFRICA INVESTIGATING FIRST POSSIBLE CORONAVIRUS CASE IN IVORY COAST STUDENT: OFFICIALS

In this Jan. 9, 2020, photo provided by the Anti-Poaching Special Squad, the exterior of a store suspected of selling trafficked wildlife is seen in Guangde city in central China's Anhui Province. The outbreak of a new virus linked to a wildlife market in central China is prompting renewed calls for enforcement of laws against the trade in and consumption of exotic species. (Anti-Poaching Special Squad via AP)

In this Jan. 9, 2020, photo provided by the Anti-Poaching Special Squad, the exterior of a store suspected of selling trafficked wildlife is seen in Guangde city in central China's Anhui Province. The outbreak of a new virus linked to a wildlife market in central China is prompting renewed calls for enforcement of laws against the trade in and consumption of exotic species. (Anti-Poaching Special Squad via AP)

In response to the virus, China has cut off air, ground and water transportation to Wuhan, as well as public transportation within the city. Around 50 million people in 17 cities -- a bigger population than in major metropolitan areas like New York or Moscow -- have essentially been locked down.

China has become a huge market for wild animals, with critics saying the demand has hastened the extinction of many species.

Illegal trade flourishes in “loopholes” of the legal wildlife trade in China and increases the probability of an outbreak, a group of 19 prominent researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the nation’s top universities wrote in an open letter posted on Weibo.

CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK: MCDONALD'S, STARBUCKS AND KFC, AMONG OTHERS, TEMPORARILY CLOSING IN WUHAN AREA

Police look at items seized from store suspected of trafficking wildlife in Guangde city in central China's Anhui Province. (Anti-Poaching Special Squad via AP)

Police look at items seized from store suspected of trafficking wildlife in Guangde city in central China's Anhui Province. (Anti-Poaching Special Squad via AP)

“This is the hidden danger for the trade and consumption," of wild animals, the letter read.

Authorities in Wuhan have closed the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, where 41 of the first cases originated. Officials are still uncertain of the source of the outbreak.

CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP

In an effort to contain the disease, China extended the lunar New Year holiday to keep people in their homes. Travel agencies were warned to cancel group tours nationwide and Hong Kong announced it would bar visitors from mainland China.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.