The World Health Organisation on Tuesday urged countries to suspend the sale of live animals captured from the wild in food markets as an emergency measure, noting that they were a leading source of emerging infectious diseases like the coronavirus.

“Animals, particularly wild animals, are the source of more than 70% of all emerging infectious diseases in humans, many of which are caused by novel viruses,” said the WHO. “Wild mammals, in particular, pose a risk for the emergence of new diseases.”

The WHO said that significant problems could arise when traditional food markets allow the sale and slaughter of wild animals which cannot be properly assessed for potential risks. It highlighted the risk of direct transmission of emerging infectious diseases to humans who come in contact with bodily fluids of an infected animal.

“Some of the earliest known cases of Covid-19 had a link to a wholesale traditional food market in Wuhan City,” the WHO noted. “Many of the initial Covid-19 patients were stall owners, market employees or regular visitors to this market.”

In a separate report last month, a joint study by the WHO and China had found that the Covid-19 infection was most likely transmitted from bats to humans through another animal.

Apart from suspending the sale of live animals, particularly wild ones in open markets, the WHO also recommended that countries should improve standards of hygiene and sanitation in such markets. It advised that slaughter and dressing of animals should be carried out in separate facilities under supervision of an official veterinary service.

The health body added that food regulations of countries should include strict biosecurity measures for farming of animals to prevent the introduction and spread of diseases among humans.