Nobody is certain how the novel COVID-19 coronavirus first infected humans, but the most frequent theory points to a wet market in Wuhan, China, and, more specifically, to the wild animals sold in it. It's widely believed the virus originated in bats and possibly jumped to another host — some have pointed to the endangered pangolins, others believe it may have been snakes — in the market before leaping again to humans, sparking a pandemic.
Regardless of the specific species, Beijing imposed a ban on the sale and consumption of wild animals, practices which were heavily criticized by animal rights activists long before the virus. But The Wall Street Journal reports a government document from March showed China set up tax incentives for the export of animal products including edible snakes and turtles, primate meat, beaver and civet (the animal believed to have transferred the SARS virus to humans in 2003) musk, and rhino horns, the trade of which varies legally around the globe.
The wild animal exports make up a small percentage of the goods tied to the new incentives, but a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service found that encouraging the sale of such products, even if it's just a small amount, could "spread the risk" of future viral infections to the global market, possibly rendering the in-country ban ineffective in the long run. Read more at The Wall Street Journal.
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