BEIJING – The coronavirus epidemic, with origins that have been traced back to China’s Hubei Province and specifically linked to wet markets in Wuhan, where meat, seafood and poultry are sold, has claimed the lives of more than 427 people while sickening nearly 21,000. The urgency posed by person-to-person transmission has health officials across the globe on high alert as travel restrictions are being implemented and reports of the virus have spread to about 23 countries, including 11 confirmed cases in the United States.

According to a Reuters report, poultry producers and farmers raising chickens and ducks in the Hubei region are struggling to cope with the fallout, including culling and disposing of infected birds, transport bans on suspect live poultry, as well as coping with feed shortages and staving off biosecurity threats. Efforts to prevent the spread of the virus has brought many slaughtering operations to a halt while cutting capacity at others and freezing the movement of feed and eggs from some of China’s biggest markets.

The outbreak has occurred in the midst of a pork supply crisis in China, where African Swine Fever (ASF) decimated as much as half of the country’s hog herd over the past 18 months. To offset the protein shortage, China trade officials have increased imports of other meat and poultry products to meet demand while increasing domestic production of poultry by about 12 percent, to approximately 22 million tonnes.