Bbc.com South Africa
Coronavirus in South Africa: Two-day-old baby dies - BBC News
The prematurely born baby, who had trouble breathing, is among the youngest victims in the world.
Image copyrightGetty ImagesImage caption South Africa has the highest number of coronavirus cases in Africa A two-day-old baby has died with coronavirus in South Africa - one of the world's youngest victims of the virus. The mother had tested positive for Covid-19 and the child subsequently tested positive, the health minister said. The baby was born prematurely and needed help with breathing, he added. The country's death toll now stands at 339, and the number of confirmed cases has climbed to 18,003. The latest modelling predicts that up to 40,000 people might die in South Africa over the next few months. "Sadly we have recorded the first neonatal mortality related to Covid-19. The baby was two days old and was born prematurely," South Africa's Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said. "The baby had lung difficulties which required ventilation support immediately after birth. "We extend a special word of comfort to the mother of this child and salute the neonatologists, nurses and all allied and technical personnel who had the difficult task of caring for the neonate to the end," he added. Asked by the BBC whether this was the youngest victim of coronavirus in Africa, the director of the Africa Centre for Disease Control (CDC) Dr John Nkengasong said: "To the best of our knowledge that is the first case that the Africa CDC is aware of." Other young victims of coronavirus, include a three-day-old who died on 5 May in the UK. In that case the mother and baby tested positive for coronavirus after she gave birth. The baby was born with a low heart rate and the coroner listed the primary cause of death as severe hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy, meaning the brain was starved of blood and oxygen, while maternal Covid-19 was listed as a secondary cause. Mr Mkhize also said that the two-year-old baby was one of 27 new deaths recorded in South Africa in the last 24 hours. The country has the highest number of cases of Covid-19 in Africa. However, Egypt and Algeria have had more fatalities, with 680 and 568 respectively. South Africa has had some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world, including a ban on cigarettes and alcohol, but is now easing some restrictions.
Coronavirus: South Africa Covid-19 deaths 'to soar' in coming months - BBC News
The virus could kill 40,000-45,000 in a country where tough curbs had seemed to work, experts warn.
Image copyrightReutersImage caption Miners are among the key workers who have been allowed to carry on At least 40,000 people could die with coronavirus in South Africa by the end of the year, scientists have warned. The projections were made by a group of academics and health experts advising the government. They assume tough lockdown restrictions will be eased from June, as President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced. The curbs - which were introduced in March and include a ban on tobacco and alcohol sales - have been credited with slowing the spread of the virus. The country of 57 million people has recorded just 17,200 cases of Covid-19 and 312 deaths linked to the disease so far. Spain, by comparison, has reported about 278,000 cases and almost 28,000 deaths for a population of only 47 million. But the projections by the South African Covid-19 Modelling Consortium - set up to help government planning over the outbreak - says the country could experience a sharp rise in cases and deaths over the coming months. The report was released during a meeting with Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize following criticism of the government's perceived lack of transparency. The predictions are subject to change as more data becomes available, and assume the current restrictions will be relaxed from 1 June. Under an "optimistic scenario", by late August the number of active cases could reach almost 100,000, before declining. The cumulative number of deaths by November would be 40,000. Under a "pessimistic scenario" the number of active cases could peak around at 120,000 in August, and a total of 45,000 would die by November. The report also suggests there could be 1.2 million Covid-19 cases in total, and intensive care units could be overwhelmed within weeks. By Nomsa Maseko, BBC News, Johannesburg The politics of Covid-19 and scientific rivalry have intensified in South Africa. The opposition Democratic Alliance is taking the government to court, arguing that the stringent lockdown regulations are unwarranted and the ban on alcohol and tobacco sales should be lifted. The government itself is not speaking with one voice. This month President Cyril Ramaphosa said lockdown regulations would be eased from "level 4" to "level 3" to allow schools to reopen and more people to return to work from early June. But Health Minister Zweli Mkhize seems reluctant, and has said that according to the World Health Organization, South Africa is not yet ready for level 3 because infections continue to rise every day. It's a balancing act for the government, which has to take the issues of food security, job losses and the economy into consideration. Some scientists have called on the government to fast-track lockdown restrictions to level 2, claiming the current ones have little or no effect on the spread of coronavirus. In March, President Ramaphosa imposed some of the strictest lockdown measures of any country. Most workers were ordered to stay at home. In addition to the tobacco and alcohol bans, jogging, cycling and dog-walking were also prohibited. Media captionThe impact of South Africa's alcohol and cigarette ban in lockdown On 1 May, the curbs were eased from "level 5" to "level 4", allowing people to exercise between 06:00 and 09:00. People are still urged to wear face masks in public and observe social distancing rules.
Coronavirus: Can 'excess deaths' figures show pandemic's true extent? - BBC News
Can these figures help us discover the true extent of the coronavirus pandemic?
Coronavirus: New York becomes Ground Zero again - BBC News
The city that never sleeps became the city that couldn't sleep, a place known for bravado gripped by fear.
Image copyrightGetty Images The headlines seemed to be crowding in on us. The coronavirus had reached American shores. It had come to the outer suburbs of New York. There were cases in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. By now, the news was coming word of mouth. Someone had tested positive in our downtown office complex. A tenant in a neighbouring apartment building had been laid low. Our school was shutting. All the schools were shutting. The whole of New York was soon in lockdown. Back then I remember thinking how different this was to stories of the past. Whether it was war or disaster, there was always a plane to take you away to safety; always a refuge at the end of a harrowing ordeal. With Covid-19, however, there was no plane; there was no refuge. In this planetary pandemic, the entire world was a trouble-spot. Also this was the first time my family was living the same story of disaster that I had to cover. They were subject to the same risks and dangers. They felt the same tensions and concerns. And for us there was an extra layer of anxiety. My wife, Fleur, is seven months pregnant. So some of those headlines now came like thunderbolts. A top New York hospital was barring partners from being present at the birth. Other maternity wards were following suit. Delivery rooms were being placed in Covid isolation: women sequestered from their partners, partners sequestered from their newborns. New life in the time of coronavirus. The magical realism of birth was becoming something altogether more dystopian. In pre-pandemic times - how quickly we've adopted the language of the before and the after - many New Yorkers suffered from a paranoia known as FOMO. The fear of missing out. Those who can afford it want to dine in the most fashionable new restaurants. Go see the hottest new Broadway show. Attend the latest gallery opening. But the virus was something that everyone wanted to miss out on - the talk of the town that nobody wanted to speak of from firsthand experience. Image copyrightGetty ImagesImage caption Usually it's a battle to cross Times Square. Not any more As the skies emptied of planes and we got used to seeing avenues without yellow cabs, the sound of the city changed. First we could hear the birds. Then they were drowned out by the sirens. Morning, noon and night. A ceaseless din. An unnerving din. The city that never sleeps became the city that couldn't sleep. And the fear was the ambulance outside your window would become an ambulance outside your door. To a city known for its bravado and life abundant, the coronavirus brought an overriding sense of fear. Just as people became scared of paramedics, people became frightened of hospitals - especially those with the white refrigerated trailers ranked outside, the city's mobile morgues that we hadn't seen on the streets since the days after 9/11. Then, in this home of New World modernity, we witnessed something that seemed grotesquely medieval. The bodies of the unclaimed, those who had no next of kin, placed in plain wooden boxes, ferried across to an island near the Bronx and buried in a mass grave. There was something inevitable about the world's most global city becoming the epicentre of a worldwide contagion. But few expected death on such an immense scale. Once again, this city has become Ground Zero: that haunting phrase from the attacks of 11 September that New Yorkers hoped would never be applied here again. That was surely the city's most awful day. This surely has been its most awful season. Media captionDrone footage shows mass burials in New York. My first symptoms came on a Friday night, a weariness I put down to weeks of covering the outbreak, and the new parental juggle of helping to home school our kids. Then came the muscle pain, the cough, the numbing of my taste buds. Much more worryingly, Fleur was developing a fever. Then she had the cough, what felt like a weather system on her lungs, the chronic fatigue and the tell-tale shortness of breath. New York attracts optimists. We both believed we'd be among those who only experienced mild symptoms. But Fleur's condition was deteriorating. Those sirens outside sounded even more threatening than before. The symptoms got worse in the evening. With the coronavirus, darkness brought more menace. And late one night, when Fleur was struggling to breathe properly, we feared we would have to reach for the phone to call that much-feared number, 911. Fewer things are more frightening than watching a loved one struggle to finish a sentence for lack of breath, and especially when that sentence is a matter of life and death. Sleep usually brought some comfort, and did so again. Thankfully Fleur rallied. Her breathing improved. We could see that her blood oxygen levels were okay. She avoided hospitalisation. Slowly, over the next few days, the clouds began to part. And eventually came the brilliant sunshine of full recovery. We could be counted amongst the fortunate, and we became even more mindful of the dead, and the loved ones they left behind. Even in the midst of so much mourning, there have been uplifting New York moments. The coronavirus has not crushed the charismatic personality of this city. We've seen firefighters pulling up outside hospitals then standing to applaud the nurses and doctors - the heroes of 9/11 saluting the new superheroes of Covid-19. Image copyrightGetty Images There's been the cheering and pot-banging every evening at seven, reverberating off the glass cliff-faces of Manhattan's skyscrapers and echoing through the outer boroughs. There have even been communal sing-alongs. One night it was Bill Withers Lean on Me. On another it was Frank Sinatra's rousing Big Apple anthem, New York, New York. But for those who have suffered not just from the virus, but the economic contagion that has ravaged this city, the famous line from that song - If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere - must now sound like a taunt. How can you make it when your workplace is shutdown? How can you make it when there are no tables to clear or plates to scrub? When your shop is boarded up with plywood, as if a hurricane is about to rip through - which, economically, it has. Every single shutdown day. In this hub of immigrant ambition and American abundance, we have witnessed scenes that look like they belong more in the days of the Great Depression. One of the neighbourhoods worst affected is a place called Corona in Queens. And there we have seen queues outside a food bank that stretched more than 200 yards, the length of the line a measure of the desperation. Media captionNick Bryant meets New York City's newly unemployed Cleaners, restaurant workers, labourers. The economic victims of Covid-19. People who only six weeks ago had full-time jobs, now forced to rely on welfare to feed their families. Here they lined up for hours for the most meagre of provisions. A sandwich, some sweet corn, a small carton of milk, a pot of apple sauce, in this the land of plenty. In low-income immigrant communities, American dreams are being crushed by this global scourge. Many rich New Yorkers, the city's one per cent, have simply left town, and headed for their country getaways in the Hudson Valley or coastal retreats in the Hamptons. That is not an option for the poor, many of whom live in multi-generational family dwellings, sometimes in one-bedroom apartments shared by 10 people. So the coronavirus has been a tale of two cities, with Hispanics and African Americans being killed at twice the rate of white New Yorkers. Poverty has been a propagator of the pandemic. Hardship has been a super-spreader. We're living through another time of "Buddy can you spare me a dime". Let's hope it doesn't become an era. When Covid hit, the United States was also among the vulnerable, and the virus has exposed so many of its long-term ailments - its income disparities, racial inequality, democratic sickliness, inoperative government, toxic polarisation, decline of reason, the downgrading of science, the lessening of its global influence, the absence of its global leadership. All have intersected and metastasized in this fatal moment. For a lifelong lover of America, it has been tragic to witness. I live in one of the most impatient cities on the planet. They talk here of the New York minute. It means right away, immediately, without hesitation. But while parts of the Empire State will be able to start the gradual process of reopening in mid-May, the urban density of New York City means it will have to go at an uncharacteristically slower pace. Every night at nine o'clock, the Empire State Building is illuminated in a red and white siren light to honour the emergency workers providing care. It's a ritual, at once staggeringly beautiful and ominously sinister, that will continue until this crisis is over. But that's the unanswerable question - when will New York return to being New York. Follow Nick on Twitter
Coronavirus: South Africans exercise the freedom to jog - BBC News
South Africans take to the streets and beachfronts as lockdown restrictions are slightly eased.
Image copyrightAFP South Africans have been taking advantage of a slight easing in the tough lockdown restrictions by taking to the streets to get exercise. Five weeks ago, President Cyril Ramaphosa imposed strict measures, including a ban on jogging, cycling and dog-walking, to try and contain the spread of coronavirus. Employees in certain industries have also been allowed to go back to work. The president has said his policies have delayed the spread of the virus. South Africa recorded its first coronavirus case on 5 March. Seven weeks later there are more than 5,000 confirmed cases and 103 deaths - a much slower spread than seen in some other countries. People are now allowed out to exercise between 06:00 and 09:00, but only a few kilometres from their home. Photographers caught some people out in Johannesburg. Image copyrightAFP Image copyrightAFP Image copyrightAFP People have been allowed to walk their dogs for the first time in five weeks. Image copyrightAFP Joggers were also spotted near the Union Buildings, the president's office in the capital, Pretoria. Image copyrightAFP On the coast, in Cape Town, people came out in the early morning mist. Image copyrightReuters Dog-walkers could also be seen on the sea front. Image copyrightReuters But the crowds soon built up, leading some to express concern that social distancing rules were not being observed. Image copyrightReuters South Africans have been advised to wear face masks in public and police officers have been seen telling people to put them on. Image copyrightAFP And thousands more soldiers have been deployed to make sure that the continued restrictions are being respected. Image copyrightAFP The controversial ban on alcohol and cigarette sales will remain in place, as well as some of the other tight restrictions and people are still being encouraged to stay at home. There is also a night-time curfew. But there is a recognition of the economic damage that a prolonged lockdown could do and people in manufacturing and construction are being allowed back to work. Restaurants and fast food outlets can now operate but only through deliveries. All pictures subject to copyright
Coronavirus: Millions of children risk missing vaccines, says UN - BBC News
A huge backlog of shipments has built up in the coronavirus outbreak, the organisation warns.
Image copyrightUnicef Millions of children risk missing "life-saving" vaccines, the UN has warned, after a "massive backlog" of shipments built up due to the coronavirus pandemic. The outbreak has had a huge impact on the air industry, drastically reducing commercial and charter flights. Dozens of countries are at risk of running out of vital vaccines, the UN children's agency Unicef says. It wants governments and the private sector to free up freight space. Immunisation programmes are one of Unicef's key activities. The organisation estimates that vaccinations for serious diseases like measles, polio and tetanus save the lives of up to three million children a year. With medical researchers hard at work on a coronavirus vaccine, Unicef says the outbreak is disrupting active efforts against other illnesses. "Unicef is calling for support to unlock a massive backlog in vaccine shipments due to unprecedented logistical constraints related to Covid-19 mitigation measures including lockdowns in some countries," said spokesperson Marixie Mercado. Warning of a "dramatic decline" in commercial flights and the "exorbitant" cost of securing them, she said: "Countries with limited resources will struggle to pay these higher prices, leaving children vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases. "Unicef is appealing to governments, the private sector, the airline industry, and others to free up freight space at an affordable cost for these life-saving vaccines." Last month the organisation warned measles outbreaks might occur as a result of vaccine programmes being delayed by the coronavirus outbreak. Even before coronavirus emerged Unicef estimated that more than 20 million children a year were missing out on a measles vaccine, with the organisation citing scepticism of vaccines as a factor. Media captionEpidemic v pandemic: What's the difference? On Thursday, teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg donated $100,000 (£80,000) she won from a Danish charity to Unicef to help its fight against coronavirus. Launching a campaign to help protect children's lives in the outbreak, she said: "Like the climate crisis, the coronavirus pandemic is a child-rights crisis. It will affect all children, now and in the long-term, but vulnerable groups will be impacted the most."
Coronavirus: Cuban doctors go to South Africa - BBC News
The 200 medics are among 1,200 sent to countries that requested help from the communist state.
Image copyrightEPAImage caption The Cuban doctors are to be deployed to different provinces in South Africa More than 200 doctors from Cuba are due to arrive in South Africa to help fight coronavirus. The medics left on a plane that first carried a donation of South African medical supplies to the Caribbean island, its embassy in Pretoria said. They are among 1,200 healthcare workers sent to battle Covid-19 in 22 countries that have requested help from the communist state. South Africa is to begin easing strict lockdown restrictions next month. More than 1.5 million people will be allowed to return to work, some schools will reopen, deliveries of hot food will be permitted and cigarettes will be back on sale. But the sale of alcohol and public gatherings will still be banned. The country, which at one point was following the UK's infection curve, has stunned observers in the way it has slowed the spread of the virus, says the BBC's Andrew Harding from Johannesburg. It has recorded 4,361 cases of coronavirus, including 86 deaths. Special relationship The Cuban doctors - arriving in Johannesburg late on Sunday night - are to be deployed to different provinces by South Africa's Department of Health, Cuba's ambassador Rodolfo Benítez Verson has said. The two countries have close ties as Cuba was instrumental in the fight against white-minority rule in South Africa, which did not end until 1994 when anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela was elected president. Media captionPresident Cyril Ramaphosa's struggle to put on a face mask Cuba is well known for its medical diplomacy, though it has not been without controversy. The US government under President Donald Trump has urged countries not to accept Cuban medical missions, accusing the country of exploiting its medics - allegations Havana denies. Image [email protected] caption South Africa has sent protective gear and other supplies for Cuban health facilities Cuba, with 1,337 recorded cases of Covid-19 and 51 deaths, has the world's highest ratio of doctors to population and began preparing for the virus early. According to the Reuters news agency, it is renowned for its focus on prevention and community-orientated primary health care to fight epidemics. Coronavirus and Africa: In South Africa, thousands of community health workers have been screening millions of people for coronavirus. Professor Salim Abdool Karimwe, who is leading South Africa's scientific response to outbreak, says they have been targeting "the most socially vulnerable communities, where this likely was most likely to spread". President Cyril Ramaphosa has warned of overconfidence as lockdown measures ease, saying infections are likely to reach their peak in August. Image copyrightEPAImage caption The doctors will be arriving in Johannesburg on Sunday night Meanwhile, it is reported that the country is seeking international funding to help fund a 500bn rand ($26bn; £21bn) rescue package to cushion coronavirus's economic impact. The government is to give new welfare grants to help South Africa's poorest families, as millions of people have lost their incomes, and aid organisations warn of growing signs of desperation.
Coronavirus: The different approaches to lockdowns in Africa - BBC News
Countries have taken different routes in imposing restrictions - which ones are working against the virus?
Image copyrightGetty ImagesImage caption Ghana has begun lifting some restrictions African countries have fewer coronavirus cases than much of the world, but weaker healthcare systems do put the continent at risk. Lockdown measures can help prevent the virus spreading, yet governments have taken very different approaches to imposing restrictions on their populations. Are any countries lifting restrictions? Some, like Ghana, are now easing these measures, concerned about their impact on the poor and because they've taken other steps against the virus. Ghana did place lockdown restrictions on its major cities - which it has now largely lifted. But a ban on social events, and school closures will remain in place for the time being. "The lockdown was beginning to have a negative impact on the poor who mostly depend on their daily sales to make a living," says BBC Ghana correspondent Thomas Naadi. Image copyrightGetty ImagesImage caption Nigeria has restricted movement between different states Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo has said increased testing and improved treatment centres meant they could ease measures. The Democratic Republic of Congo has also relaxed some restrictions in those parts of its capital city, Kinshasa, that had been badly hit by coronavirus. And some countries did not implement severe restrictions in the first place. Tanzania reported its first case in mid-March and the government closed education centres, but public and religious gatherings were not prohibited and it only suspended international flights on 11 April. But this may have come at a cost, according to the World Health Organization. "We have observed that physical distancing, including the prohibition of mass gatherings, took some time to happen," says Matshidiso Moeti of the WHO. She adds that this may have been a factor leading to a rapid rise in cases there. WHO director general Tedros Ghebreyesus says countries should ensure they have the capacity to detect, test, isolate and care for any confirmed cases as they ease restrictions. "Lifting so-called lockdown restrictions is not the end of the epidemic in any country, it's just the beginning of the next phase," he said. Who's kept tough restrictions in place? Many African countries have had experience in combating infectious diseases, and many took tough measures even before they reported outbreaks. Some 13 countries closed schools before documenting their first cases of Covid-19. The South African government has said it will gradually ease the lockdown from 30 April, but is currently enforcing one of the harshest lockdowns anywhere in the world. It has closed schools and universities, limited hospital and prison visits, and restricted movement to key workers. All public gatherings apart from funerals are banned - and the army have been deployed to enforce it. Image copyrightGetty ImagesImage caption South Africa has had one of the strictest lockdowns on the continent Nigeria, by far Africa's most populous nation, closed its land borders and banned all international flights in late March. It then shut down its major cities of Lagos and Abuja, following more than 100 reported cases, and restricted movement between states. Zimbabwe did a total lockdown around the same time, although it only had a small number of infections. Kenya has had a partial lockdown, with travel in and out of major cities banned. It also had an overnight nationwide curfew, that has resulted in more than 400 arrests for violations. Are lockdowns the right response in Africa? The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the body that co-ordinates pandemic responses across the continent, told the BBC that lockdowns have played a role in reducing new cases. "Without the lockdown we would have seen a more explosive outbreak," says director John Nkengasong. Image copyrightGetty ImagesImage caption Ramping up testing capacity is a key part of the fight against the virus He adds that it's not just the lockdown itself, but also what else you do during that period. "You intensify your testing, your isolation and your contact tracing so that when you unlock the system at least you have created a huge impact on the virus spread." It's important to say that coronavirus is a much greater risk to older populations, putting particular pressures on countries in Europe. The median ages in Italy and the UK are about 45 and 40 for example, whereas the average age in sub-Saharan Africa is about 20. However, that's not to say other factors don't come into play in Africa such as sanitation and limited access to good healthcare. Some voices have questioned the need for continuing lockdowns, for example the main opposition party in South Africa. There are economic concerns - Western countries have put huge sums into supporting businesses and social welfare schemes. But many African countries simply do not have that option. And overseas remittances, a big source of income, will decrease, further harming local economies. There have also been human rights issues raised about the behaviour of some security forces when enforcing restrictions. Human rights group Amnesty International reported that there'd been abuses by security forces in South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Nigeria. "Most states have expanded police and army power, and for the most part it has led to an increase in police violence and misconduct," says Eda Seyhan at Covid State Watch, an organisation monitoring the global abuse of powers during the pandemic. Read more from Reality Check Send us your questions Follow us on Twitter
Coronavirus: South Africa allows cigarette sales as lockdown restrictions eased - BBC News
Alcohol sales remain banned but people can soon exercise outside and some businesses reopen.
Image copyrightGetty ImagesImage caption The ban on cigarette sales, which came in on 27 March, has been lifted South Africa has announced an easing of some lockdown restrictions beginning next month, citing economic concerns. But President Cyril Ramaphosa warned that most people should remain at home, public gatherings remain banned, and the country's borders will stay closed. From 1 May, some businesses will be allowed to reopen, and a third of their employees can return to work. Tough rules had even seen a ban on cigarette sales but that will be lifted. Alcohol sales remain banned. Some schools will also reopen but with strict limits likely on class sizes. The country has some of the most stringent coronavirus lockdown restrictions in the world, but security forces have struggled to enforce them. Most people are still being urged to stay at home. What has changed? President Ramaphosa said a month-long lockdown had been working, and had slowed the pandemic's progress. But "people need to eat", and to "earn a living", he said. He also urged people to wear masks on public transport. However at the end of his speech he struggled while demonstrating how to put on a mask, leading to widespread mockery on social media. Under the new plans, South Africa's alert level will drop from "level 5" to "level 4":
- Cigarette sales will be permitted
- Exercise is to be allowed under strict guidelines
- Public transport continues but passengers should wear masks
- Shops and supermarkets will be allowed to sell more goods
- Some businesses can reopen under strict conditions
- Mines will be opened at reduced capacity
Coronavirus: WHO developing guidance on wet markets - BBC News
The World Health Organization calls for stricter safety and hygiene when wet markets reopen.
Image copyrightGetty ImagesImage caption Wet market covered in plastic for social distancing The World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for stricter safety and hygiene standards when wet markets reopen. And it says governments must rigorously enforce bans on the sale and trade of wildlife for food. The start of the pandemic was linked to a market in Wuhan, where wildlife was on sale. Wet markets are common in Asia, Africa and elsewhere, selling fresh fruit and vegetables, poultry, fresh meat, live animals and sometimes wildlife. The WHO is working with UN bodies to develop guidance on the safe operation of wet markets, which it says are an important source of affordable food and a livelihood for millions of people all over the world. But in many places, they have been poorly regulated and poorly maintained, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, said in a briefing on Friday. "WHO's position is that when these markets are allowed to reopen it should only be on the condition that they conform to stringent food safety and hygiene standards," he said. "Governments must rigorously enforce bans on the sale and trade of wildlife for food." And he added: "Because an estimated 70% of all new viruses come from animals, we also work together closely [with the World Organization for Animal Health and the Food and Agricultural Organization, FAO, of the United Nations] to understand and prevent pathogens crossing from animals to humans." Public health concerns The pandemic has led to some wildlife conservation organisations calling for blanket bans on the wildlife trade on public health grounds, including bans on the commercial trade in wildlife for human consumption and closing down live wildlife markets. Dr Mark Jones, head of policy at Born Free, urged the WHO to work alongside governments to ban wildlife markets and bring an end to the commercial wildlife trade, including measures to protect wildlife habitats. He said this was necessary "to halt and reverse the devastating declines in the natural world that have brought a million species to the brink of extinction and threaten the future of wildlife and humanity alike". However, other experts have warned against an outright ban on markets and wildlife trade, saying this could prove counterproductive. Image copyrightGetty ImagesImage caption Wet markets feed millions across the world Writing in The Conversation, Dan Challender and Amy Hinsley from the University of Oxford, said banning all wildlife trade "is a knee-jerk and potentially self-defeating measure". "A more appropriate response would be improving regulation of wildlife markets, especially those involving live animals. This should include full consideration of public health and animal welfare concerns to ensure there is low risk of future animal-to-human disease outbreaks." What are wet markets? Wet markets are a familiar sight in many countries. Selling live fish, chickens and wildlife, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables, they get their name from the melting of ice used to preserve goods, as well as to wash the floors clean of blood from butchered animals. Why are they linked to the spread of disease? Many experts think Covid-19 likely originated in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, which has been linked to early confirmed cases. While not a wet market in the strictest sense, reports suggest the market was selling wildlife, including snakes, porcupine and deer. After an initial cluster of cases connected to the market, the virus began spreading dramatically inside China, before reaching much of the world. The origins of the novel virus are unknown, but it most likely emerged in a bat, then made the leap to humans via another wild animal host. Wet markets can be "timebombs" for epidemics, says Prof Andrew Cunningham, deputy director of science at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). "This sort of way that we treat... animals as if they're just our commodities for us to plunder - it comes back to bite us and it's no surprise." Follow Helen on Twitter.