WWF-Hong Kong on Friday called on the government to clamp down on the illegal wildlife trade and the exotic pet trade in the city, as part of global efforts to reduce the risk of more viruses jumping from animals to humans.
David Olson, the group's director of conservation, said a number of dangerous pathogens arise from interactions with wildlife, and this concentration of exotic animals can act as "a petri dish for viruses to evolve, to mutate, and potentially jump to people".
Olson said that Hong Kong has a part to play in finding ways to reduce the facilitation of the illegal and legal wildlife trade.
"Hong Kong can play a very important role, they have really a responsibility under a number of international treaties to manage and regulate the wildlife trade," he said.
"A lot of the wildlife products and live animals are moving through Hong Kong, and this again offers conditions where viruses and other pathogens can mutate, and become transmissible and infectious to people."
"Diseases don’t distinguish between legal and illegal wildlife, they will infect either. So we need to have a blanket ban on the sale of wildlife for consumption, exotic pets at a minimum."
Olson said the government could also look into putting wildlife crimes under the Organised and Serious Crimes Ordinance.
"This would enable the government and the authorities to interdict and prosecute more effectively, acting as more of a deterrent for those involved in the illegal wildlife trade," he told RTHK's Richard Pyne.
The Covid-19 outbreak is believed to have started at a wildlife market in Wuhan, prompting Beijing in February to permanently ban the trade of wild animals as food.