Nairobi, Feb 25 – China’s top legislative body has imposed a complete ban on the consumption of wildlife and vowed to crackdown on trade in prohibited species as the country steps up efforts to combat the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19) disease, the Xinhua news agency reported.

The ban, imposed by the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee on February 24, is intended to “eliminate the bad habits of eating wild animals.”

Li Zhanshu, chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, called for a rigorous implementation of the ban to safeguard people’s health and help improve the country’s image.

Researchers in China have suggested that pangolins are the probable intermediate host species for the fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak that has thus far infected some 80,000 people globally, most of them in China. The respiratory disease has claimed the lives of about 2,600 people.

Scientists at the South China Agricultural University in Guangzhou earlier this month said that two of its researchers, Shen Yongyi and Xiao Lihua, had identified the pangolin as the potential intermediate host of the Covid-19 disease. Their conclusion was based on a genetic comparison of coronaviruses taken from the animals and from humans infected in the outbreak and other findings. The sequences are 99% similar, the researchers reported at a press conference on February 7.

Coronaviruses are known to circulate in mammals and birds, and scientists have already suggested that Covid-19 originally came from bats, a proposal based on the similarity of its genetic sequence to those of other known coronaviruses. But the virus was probably transmitted to humans by another animal.

Pangolins as an important source of medicine and food in China. The meat is consumed as a luxury food item while the scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine, combined with other ingredients, ostensibly to promote blood circulation, stimulate lactation, disperse swelling and expel pus. The animals are widely traded illegally.