What’s our takeaway from COVID-19?

Pandemics and Animals

Almost all of our recent pandemics are linked to animals, either wild or domesticated:

  • Ebola: bat -> intermediate host (chimpanzees, monkeys, etc) -> human (1)
  • HIV: chimpanzee -> human (2)
  • SARS: bat -> intermediate host -> human (3)
  • H1N1: pig -> human (4)
  • MERS: bat -> camel -> human (5)
  • BSE (mad cow disease): cow -> human (6)
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Why is this happening?

The following processes are the main causes for an increase in human contact with animals:

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Urbanization & deforestation

During the first decade of the 21st century, almost 200 million people moved to urban areas in East Asia (8). Rapid urbanization has forced countries to repurpose land for residential uses, which used to separate wildlife from humans. Wuhan, where the new coronavirus emerged, tripled in size between 2000 and 2018. As a result, two things are happening:

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Domestication of animals

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  • First, diseases can easily spread. For example, animals are jam-packed in cages; the cooling process puts all slaughtered animals through the same tank of freezing water. If one is sick, all are at risk.
  • Second, animals are chronically stressed, which increases their likelihood of falling sick. Imagine being a salmon trapped in a net with 500 other fish and unable to breathe. Imagine having to lay an egg every 4 hours instead of 24 because the day has been artificially shortened to maximize productivity. Layer chickens live that life.
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Wet market & bushmeat hunting

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What’s up with China & Africa?

Since COVID-19 started to spread outside China, finger-pointing has never stopped. People are blaming China & sub-Saharan Africa being the hub for pandemics. True, SARS, Ebola, HIV originated there, but let’s not forget that H1N1 originated in the US; MERS, Saudi Arabia; Zika, South America. I am stating these places of origin not to participate in more finger-pointing, but to show that there is no point in arguing “who started it”.

  1. Each country assumes the responsibility to reduce the chance of originating outbreaks. It’s still possible to get wildlife onto the dinner table in many countries. For this, the government and each individual are accountable.
  2. Help each other. There are lucky countries that are decades ahead of the others in terms of infrastructure, technology, and policy. These developed countries have a disproportionate responsibility to help developing countries reach a commonly agreed standard.

Where do we go from here

We need to reduce our contact with animals as much as possible. Period. There are a few things we should do:

Restore forests

Research showed that a mere 4% deforestation in the Amazon would cause the chance of Malaria to go up by 50% (9). This is because deforested land provides the right environment for mosquitoes that transmit Malaria to thrive. We need to return real estate back to wildlife so they can happily live in their own habitat.

Make wildlife trade a public enemy

It doesn’t matter that wildlife trading is illegal on paper. It’s still happening. We need to build a culture of intolerance around it. It is not acceptable to own an ivory craft or a piece of fox skin. We should condemn the culture of eating “exotic food”. When you are offering crocodile, pangolin, or snake to your guest, you are putting the entire world at risk.

Improve sanitary standards of wet markets and factory farms

Governments need to enforce sanitary standards across wet markets or simply close them down. Consumers need to realize the risk of going to a wet market. Similarly, governments need to enforce higher sanitary standards across factory farms and slaughterhouses.

Becoming a vegetarian or significantly cut down meat consumption

Above all, the most effective individual action you can take that doesn’t involve anyone else buying your argument: become a vegetarian. Read more here:

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash
  1. Ebola virus disease
  2. The evolution of HIV-1 and the origin of AIDS | Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
  3. Bats, Civets and the Emergence of SARS
  4. H1N1 Flu | Origin of 2009 H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu)
  5. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1879625716000079?via%3Dihub
  6. Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) | Prions Diseases | CDC
  7. Bats In China Carry 400+ Coronaviruses With The Potential To Spill Over Into Humans : Goats and Soda
  8. East Asia’s Changing Urban Landscape
  9. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/sunday-review/the-ecology-of-disease.html?smid=fb-share&fbclid=IwAR3z0kffE2qTXabdD7RaGjz7_8z0PbNVumhEconqQprZYoRu2fuFfLG2AHM

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Mojia Shen

Mojia Shen

Serving mother earth and her children