Zoonotic viruses must be treated as weapons of mass destruction says Lord Hague of Richmond (The Times). I fully agree with him. The coronavirus crisis must compel humankind to do something about our relationship with animals and in particular, in this instance, the wild species.
American scientists have estimated that 1.6 million undiscovered viruses exist in wild animals. Nearly half of them, they say, could infect people. The coronavirus arose out of a perfect storm of conditions. There is and was a brutal relationship between wild animals and humans at the 20,000 wet markets in China. This brings together animals who carry viruses and humans in vast numbers. Viruses can escape these animals because they are slaughtered on the spot. Africa also has a substantial market in ‘bush meat’.
There have been three times as many outbreaks of zoonotic disease transmission in the 1990s as there were in the 1940s. And it is getting worse. No doubt this is because there are more people and there’s more animal abuse and slaughtering in an unregulated way. This, regrettably, is why China is nearly always implicated in these horrendous zoonotic disease transmissions e.g. bird flu SARS.
The majority of new infectious diseases start in animals. These include SARS, ebola and HIV-AIDS. The next coronavirus-style pandemic may well happen in the near future. The current one is a wake-up call to world leaders.
There must be a new international order to inspect the biological threats which pose a danger to human health and the global economy, says Lord Hague. We take steps to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction but it appears that we do nothing but respect to new viruses which cause destruction on a similar scale.
There needs to be a system to monitor and inspect viral threats and then the power internationally to shut those threats down. In my opinion, the World Health Organisation has failed in this coronavirus pandemic. They are paid an awful lot of money but what do they do? They appeared to have taken sides with China and defended China’s approach to the pandemic. Allegedly China covered it up which allowed the virus to spread across the globe. There will be compensation claims. I have no doubt about it. The state of Missouri in America has already started. These claims will amount to trillions of dollars.
However, claims for compensation are reactive. It is far wiser to take proactive steps as Lord Hague advocates. We must stop this increased exposure to novel pathogens due to increased trade in wildlife whether they be a wet market in South China or a shipment from West Africa. In addition, deforestation which is catastrophic across the planet displaces wild species. These animals spill into suburbs and rural communities. They can cause viral outbreaks such as zika.
And, Lord Hague says industrial farming creates conditions for a new flu strain in birds and pigs which can be transferred to their handlers and thence to the wider human population. Boris Johnson needs to use the next international climate change conference to put pressure on world leaders to take steps to take proactive measures against another coronavirus-like catastrophe. We must improve our relationship with wild animals and respect them and the planet.