The global coronavirus crisis was “predictable and preventable”, the head of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) has said in a scathing critique of the world’s preparedness for the pandemic.
Writing exclusively in The Independent, Dominic Jermey, director general of ZSL, says governments have done far too little in tackling issues at the root of the emergence of Covid-19 - the wildlife trade and zoonotic diseases.
“Alongside my disbelief, horror and sadness at the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, my main emotions are anger and frustration. Frustration that the pandemic we are living through was predictable and preventable,” Mr Jermey writes.
The blunt acknowledgement by Mr Jermey comes amid increasing anger at home and abroad over failures by national governments to prepare adequately for the infectious disease, which has so far claimed more than 150,000 lives globally.
“Humanity’s relentless exploitation of wildlife has been putting us at increasing risk of an event like this for decades. And this knowledge has not been some big secret, despite the rhetoric from various world leaders claiming this pandemic couldn’t have been anticipated,” Mr Jermey writes. ”The truth is, we knew this was coming.”
The message would appear relevant for successive Conservative governments, which have been accused of repeatedly ignoring warnings within “pandemic preparedness” documents over the past decade.
To minimise the risk of future pandemics, Mr Jermey calls for the international community to focus on better regulation of so-called “wet markets”, such as the one in Wuhan largely considered the epicentre of the outbreak, and a renewed battle against the “illegal and unsustainable” wildlife trade.
Of the latter, Evgeny Lebedev, proprietor of The Independent and Evening Standard, wrote last week: “From the financing of terrorists like Al-Shabab to the propagation of corruption and smuggling groups, this demand has done untold damage to the African continent.
“But now, the illegal wildlife trade’s filthy conclusion, from one of China’s live animal markets, has gone from an animal rights problem to a global health crisis.”
The Independent last week launched a campaign calling for an international effort in creating tighter restrictions on wildlife markets and the trade of wild animals, practices of which no one country is the sole guilty party.
Mr Jermey advocates for the need to be mindful of the myriad consequences that would likely follow any action taken on markets which sell wild species.
“Simply banning or closing the markets where wildlife is sold would leave millions of people in the developing world without a vital source of nutrition”, Mr Jermey writes.
Instead, we need “significant investment in wildlife health research, its application and improved regulation of wildlife markets”.
Mr Jermey adds: “As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, with its enormous human and economic impacts, we must ensure there is a fundamental rethink of the relationship between humans and wildlife.”
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