China announced an immediate and "comprehensive" ban on wildlife trade and consumption on Monday, a practice believed to be responsible for the fatal outbreak of the corona virus.
The country's top legislative committee endorsed a proposal to "ban illegal wildlife trade, eliminate the bad habit of excessive wildlife consumption, and effectively protect people's lives and health," state television reported.
Previous temporary bans were introduced, including after the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus killed hundreds of people in China and Hong Kong between 2002 and 2003 and was also due to the consumption of wild animals.
However, this ban was short-lived, and conservationists have long accused China of tolerating cruel wildlife trade as exotic menu items or for use in traditional medicines, the effectiveness of which has not been confirmed by science.
The decision was made by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), which oversees the country's stamp legislation.
The coronavirus epidemic highlighted "the main problem of excessive animal consumption and the enormous hidden threats to public health and safety," the China Central Television (CCTV) report said.
Chinese health officials said the virus probably originated in a downtown Wuhan market that sold wild animals as food.
The corona virus killed 2,592 people in China, infected 77,000 more and paralyzed the country's economy.
It has also infected and killed nearly 30 people in at least two dozen other countries, and its rapid spread worldwide has raised fears of a full-blown pandemic.
The committee also decided on Monday to postpone this year's NPC meeting, which is due to start in early March, to delay any legal changes in wildlife trade.
As a result, the Standing Committee immediately issued a full ban pending final legislation, CCTV said.
Wildlife trade laws already exist, but conservationists say that they are full of gaps in many species and that enforcement is episodic or simply lax.
After the epidemic exploded across the country, China ordered a temporary ban at the end of last month, "until the national epidemic situation is over."
However, conservationists and virologists said a temporary ban was not enough and called for a permanent, strictly enforced ban.
Public health risk
Health experts warn that the transportation, slaughter and consumption of wild game pose a significant and growing public health risk by exposing humans to dangerous animal pathogens.
Conservationists say China is the largest country in which many endangered species are consumed, and animals are routinely subjected to terrible conditions and cruel treatment.
The exact source of the coronavirus remains unconfirmed, and scientists speculate differently that it comes from bats, pangolins, or another mammal.
Scientists say that SARS probably comes from bats and later reaches humans via civets.
According to a price list that was spread on the Chinese Internet, one of the vendors in the Wuhan market in the virus epicenter sold a huge amount of animals, including civets, rats, snakes, giant salamanders, and live wolf pups.