Sens. Graham, Coons call on China to 'immediately' shut down wet markets

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Sens. Lindsey Graham, Chris Coons and a group of bipartisan senators on Thursday “urgently” requested that China “immediately” close all operating wet markets amid the coronavirus pandemic in a letter first obtained by Fox News.

Graham, R-S.C., and Coons, D-Del., penned a letter to Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai urging him to close markets to “protect” the world from “additional health risks.”

BOOKER, GRAHAM CALL ON WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION TO SHUT DOWN 'WET MARKETS' AROUND THE WORLD AMID CORONAVIRUS

“We write to urgently request that China immediately close all operating wet markets that have a potential to expose humans to health risks through the introduction of zoo tonic disease into the human population,” Graham and Coons wrote, citing Gao Fu, the director of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, who said that “the origin of the new coronavirus is the wildlife sold illegally in a Wuhan (China) seafood market.”

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“It is well documented that wet markets in China have been a source of a number of worldwide health problems, and their operation should cease immediately so as to protect the Chinese people and the international community from additional health risks,” they continued.

Graham and Coons also cited Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and a member of President Trump’s coronavirus task force, who recently said the markets should be shut down “right away,” and that it “boggles” his mind “when we have so many diseases that emanate out of that unusual human animal interface that we don’t just shut it down.”

The senators said Fauci’s statement was “both true and urgent, and his advice should be followed immediately.”

“We believe China should play an important role in shutting down its wet markets that expose humans to health risks and by urging other countries to do the same,” Graham and Coons wrote.

The senators went on to cite Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who stated that China would “resolutely outlaw and harshly crackdown” on wildlife trafficking, which, in turn, had the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress take steps to close China’s wet markets earlier this year.

At the time, the National People’s Congress said “it is necessary to strengthen market supervision, resolutely ban and severely crack down on illegal wildlife markets and trade, and control major public health risks from the source.”

WHAT ARE 'WET MARKETS' LINKED TO THE CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK? 

“Despite these statements, wet markets in Wuhan and throughout China are back in operation after the recent shut downs,” Graham and Coons wrote.

“Therefore, we are urging China to shut down all wet markets that allow for interactions between humans and wild animals that pose public health risks,” they added. “We understand and respect that wet markets are an important component to Chinese society and way of life, but we believe the current moment, which has disrupted everyday life around the world, calls for extreme precautions.”

The letter was signed on by Sens. Kevin Cramer, Chris Van Hollen, Thom Tillis, Martha McSally, Cindy Hyde-Smith, Marsha Blackburn, John Hoeven, Mitt Romney, and Rick Scott.

Graham and Coons’ letter to the Chinese ambassador comes after Graham and Sen. Cory Booker, along with Reps. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., and Mike McCaul, R-Texas, penned a letter to World Health Organization officials to ban and immediately close wet markets around the world.

“Live wildlife markets, known as ‘wet’ markets, were linked to the 2003 SARS outbreak and are believed to be the source of the current COVID-19,” Booker and Graham wrote. “As this pandemic continues to threaten the lives of millions, pushes healthcare systems to the breaking point, and devastates economies around the world, it is imperative that we all take action as a global community to protect public health.”

They went on to note that scientists studying diseases that are zoonotic – meaning they jump between animals and humans – have pointed to the close proximity of shoppers, vendors and both live and death animals at wet markets in countries around the world “as prime transmission locations for these pathogens.”

They added that “wet markets” pose “a threat to global public health because wildlife comes from many different locations without any standardized sanitary of health inspection processes.”

“The risk to food buyers can also be through the slaughter of animals in front of customers, releasing disease carrying fluids like blood, saliva, and excrement into the air, which can then splash or splatter on nearby people, be consumed or inadvertently inhaled by humans,” they wrote.

Booker and Graham cited scientists who estimate that approximately 60-75 percent of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic and that approximately 72 percent originate from wildlife. They also noted that “in the past 45 years, at least five pandemics have been traced back to bats.”

“In the case of SARS and the COVID-19 outbreak, bats were also the original hosts,” they wrote.

Meanwhile, McCaul sent a separate letter last month to the WHO demanding they work to end unsanitary practices at wildlife markets in China.

The calls to ban wet markets come as the positive cases of COVID-19 globally surpassed 1.58 million, more than 94,000 deaths.

As of Thursday evening , the United States reported more than 452,500 positive cases of the novel coronavirus and more than 16,100 deaths.