Paul McCartney has accused China’s wet markets of being “medieval” and “obscene”, comparing their continuation to dropping “atomic bombs” on the world.

The former Beatle, who is 77 and so considered to be at increased risk from COVID-19, said he hopes China will take action.

The Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan was closed after being linked to the first cases of coronavirus – it is widely considered to be the source of the outbreak but this has not yet been conclusively proved.

Speaking to US host Howard Stern on his Sirius XM radio show, McCartney said: “I really hope that this will mean that the Chinese government will say, ‘OK, guys, we have really got to get super hygienic around here.’

“Let’s face it, it is a little bit medieval eating bats.”

A long-time animal rights activist, McCartney has been vegetarian since the 1970s.

Suggesting that wet markets were also to blame for past outbreaks including SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome) and avian flu (bird flu), McCartney said: “It wouldn’t be so bad if this is the only thing it seems like you can blame on those wet markets.

“It seems like SARS, avian flu, all sorts of other stuff that has afflicted us, and what’s it for? For these quite medieval practices. They need to clean up their act. This may lead to it. If this doesn’t, I don’t know what will.”

Popular in China and across Asia, wet markets sell fresh produce and sometimes live animals.

They are used by locals to buy fresh food including chicken, pork, fish and vegetables, at affordable prices.

The marketplaces are termed “wet” due to the fact that floors are often hosed down after vendors wash vegetables or clean fish.

McCartney also discussed the idea of celebrities campaigning for wet markets to be closed.

He said: “I think it makes a lot of sense … when you’ve got the obscenity of some of the stuff that’s going on there and what comes out of it, they might as well be letting off atomic bombs. It’s affecting the whole world.

“I understand that part of it is going to be, ‘People have done it for ever, this is the way we do things’. But they did slavery forever, too. You’ve got to change things at some point.”

McCartney is currently isolating in Sussex with his daughter Mary and her family.

He said his wife Nancy was in New York when the outbreak took hold, so is unable to travel back to the UK due to the lockdown.

McCartney had been due to headline Glastonbury in June, before the festival was cancelled due to the outbreak.

He called the cancellation “sad”, depriving fans of “something groovy to do in the summer”.

McCartney will be playing at the One World: Together At Home concert on Saturday 18 April, organised by Global Citizen and the World Health Organisation in support of healthcare workers on the frontlines of the #COVID19 crisis.

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