At a large grocery store in the Chinese city of Wuhan, signs prohibit the sale of wildlife and live poultry, while announcements calling for the "victory" over COVID-19 are played on a loop of speakers.
China's "wet markets" were hit internationally when the coronavirus struck the world. The disease appeared to have appeared at stalls in Wuhan at the end of last year.
The government has since banned the sale of wild animals for food, but the reopening of markets has generated criticism worldwide as the death toll from the pandemic continues to increase.
Closed during the long quarantine that blocked Wuhan until April 8, the city's markets are now struggling to survive as customers have not rushed back.
"No question, we're doomed this year," spice seller Yang, who runs a booth in the huge wholesale market in Baishazhou, told AFP. "There have never been so few people in our market."
Yang, whose sales fell by a third before the ban, dismissed criticism of markets as virus breeding grounds as "unnecessary panic."
One market remains closed: The Huanan Seafood Market, which sold a number of exotic wild animals and is believed to be the cradle of the virus that has jumped from animals to humans.
Wet markets are popular places to buy fresh meat, vegetables, and fish across Asia – the best-selling everyday products to locals at affordable prices.
Most do not sell live animals, although some do.
During visits to three Wuhan markets this week, AFP saw live turtles, frogs, fish, and crustaceans for sale, but no poultry or mammals that were blamed for previous illnesses.
The workers in Baishazhou said they now had to disinfect their booths several times a day. Yang keeps several bottles of disinfectant in her small office next to a box of masks.
Even so, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said this week that the decision to reopen the wet markets was "unfathomable."
"We need to protect the world from possible sources of this type of virus outbreak," he told Australian television.
The US government's leading medical specialist, Anthony Fauci, told Fox News earlier this month that damp markets should be closed "immediately."
& # 39; Sentenced & # 39;
The nationalist state-run Global Times launched a rigorous defense of China's wet markets on Tuesday, attacking "preconceived ideas" and "ridiculous requests" to shut them down.
While the World Health Organization said that governments must ban the sale of exotic wildlife and enforce food safety regulations, it has not called for wet markets to be closed.
Sellers in the Wuhan markets say that unaffordable rents and the continuing effects of city-wide closure are more immediate concerns than the risk of infection.
"Business is going very badly," said Zhang Zhizhen, a duck seller in the Lanling market. "It's because of the epidemic – there are still very few people on the streets."
Most Wuhan market vendors who spoke to AFP said they had never sold wild animals.
At the city's Tiansheng market, two freshwater vendors who refused to give their names said that the new rules would force them to stop selling certain types of frogs and turtles.
"This definitely affects our income, but we have to overcome it. It cannot be helped," said a seller.
The low level of pedestrian traffic on the market, which has blocked everyone but one entrance and only allows customers access after a temperature test, remains their main concern.
"We don't know if we can survive," said the other seller. "Do you see anyone here?"
Shoppers on the streets of Wuhan appeared to be untroubled by the criticism of the city's humid markets as dirty and dangerous, and instead cited convenience as the reason for choosing supermarkets.
A 40-year-old supermarket buyer with the last name of Chen told AFP that she thought food in wet markets was "good and cheap".
She rejected criticism that China's markets were unsanitary and said it was "simply not true".
"Your things are always fresh," she said.
People in China traditionally prefer buying fresh food – as opposed to frozen or packaged food – although supermarkets have tried to steal from consumers in recent years.
According to Chinese research firm iiMedia, the majority of Chinese said in 2019 that they would rather shop in supermarkets than other types of grocery stores.
"There's just more in supermarkets," Jiang Yonghui, a 20-year-old resident of Wuhan, told AFP. "I don't think there is a hygienic difference."
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)