By Naadiya Adams @Miss_Naadiya
Wuhan- a word synonymous with the notorious novel coronavirus.
It has been almost a year since the outbreak began, and having claimed more than 1.5 million lives, the market that once bustled in the busy Chinese city now stands hollow and bleak.
December 31st 2019 saw an overnight shutdown of Wuhan Wet Market after four cases of a mystery pneumonia were linked to it. By the end of January China was sent into a 76 day lockdown, confined to their homes at just a few hours notice.
There has been much debate over the origin of the virus with Beijing claiming it originated in another country.
A team of World Health Organization (WHO) experts has yet to visit Wuhan, let alone the market. Health authorities in China and abroad have warned that origin tracing efforts could take years and yield inconclusive results.
Stigma of the coronavirus epicenter hangs heavy in Wuhan, dozens of residents and business owners told Reuters they don’t believe the virus began in the city.
“It certainly couldn’t have been Wuhan … surely another person brought it in. Or surely it came from some other product brought from outside. There were just certain conditions for it to appear here,” said a wet market vendor in the city’s center who gave his name as Chen.
Chinese diplomats and state media have recently stated that they believe the market is not the source but the victim of the disease and have hurled support behind theories that the virus potentially originated in another country.
Experts say the market still plays a role in the investigation and is therefore unlikely to be demolished, though much of that research will rely on samples taken immediately after the outbreak began.
“The first cluster of cases was there, so at least it would be of interest to find out the origin of those and put forward a few hypotheses, like whether it’s more likely from the wild animals or perhaps points to a human super spreader,” said Jin Dong-Yan, professor of virology at the University of Hong Kong.
Access to the area remains heavily restricted. People who visited before the lockdown remember a lively building with hundreds of kiosks divided into segments for red meat, seafood and vegetables.
On the second floor above the empty market, shops selling glasses and optometry equipment reopened in June.
This week, a guard at the entrance to the eyewear market took temperatures and warned journalists not to take videos or photos from inside the building.
“Maybe some people have some bad feelings about it, but now it’s just an empty building … who feels anxious about an empty building?” said a shop assistant selling contact lenses, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.
While Wuhan hasn’t reported any new locally transmitted cases of COVID-19 since May and seemingly has the virus under control, for those who relied on the market, making ends meet is not easy.
Lai, who reopened his Japanese restaurant in June, says the market’s closure and ensuing public panic about the safety of imported seafood have increased the cost of procuring some ingredients five-fold. “Our goal for the next year is to just survive.”