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Coronavirus-An Anti-Virus Installed By Nature

08 April 2020

Swetaparna Mohanty

Bhubaneswar: After a lot of thumb-twiddling, I find a friend's post on Facebook that coronavirus is an anti-virus installed by nature to be a very apt statement.

As governments worldwide have gone for lockdowns and shutdowns in their reaction to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, greenhouse gas emissions are down and air quality has gone up both in India as well as in other countries. 

However, the head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Inger Andersen, has cautioned against viewing this as a boon for the environment. 

She has instead called for a profound, systemic shift to a more sustainable economy that works for both people and the planet.

"We need to take on board the environmental signals and what they mean for our future and wellbeing because COVID-19 is by no means a 'silver lining' for the environment.

“Visible, positive impacts – whether through improved air quality or reduced greenhouse gas emissions – are but temporary, because they come on the back of tragic economic slowdown and human distress," she has pointed out in the report 'First Person: COVID-19 is not a silver lining for the climate, says UN Environment chief' published in UN News.

She has said with respect to the disease itself, part of the challenge ahead is understanding where such diseases come from, because the health of our planet plays an important role in the spread of zoonotic diseases, i.e. disease originating from pathogens that transfer from animals to humans. 

The UN Environment Chief has further pointed out that as we continue to encroach on fragile ecological ecosystems, we bring humans into ever-greater contact with wildlife adding that illegal wildlife trade and illegal wet markets are not infrequent causes of such diseases.

"Around 75 per cent of new and infectious diseases are zoonotic and, in fact, about 1 billion cases of illness and millions of deaths occur every year from these diseases," she opines.

Andersen says that humanity’s expansion on the terrestrial earth surface means that, today, human activity has altered almost 75 per cent of the earth’s surface, squeezing wildlife and nature into an ever-smaller corner of the planet. And yet, nature is critical to our own survival: nature provides us with our oxygen, regulates our weather patterns, pollinates our crops, produces our food, feed and fibre, but it is under increasing stress.

“The ‘wild’ must be kept ‘wild.’ It is time to restore our forests, stop deforestation, invest in the management of protected areas, and propel markets for deforestation-free products,” she writes.

UN Environment Chief is of the view that an important pillar in our post-COVID recovery plan must be to arrive at an ambitious, measurable and inclusive framework, because keeping nature rich, diverse and flourishing is part and parcel of our life’s support system. 

“Even more important when you consider that between 25-50 per cent of pharmaceutical products are derived from genetic resources,” she adds.

Worth mentioning that in recent decades, zoonotic diseases-Ebola, avian influenza (or bird flu), H1N1 flu virus (or swine flu), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), Rift Valley fever, sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), West Nile virus, the Zika virus­–and now, the novel coronavirus COVID-19–have all either caused or threatened to cause major pandemics, with thousands of deaths and billions in economic losses.

Again, I must say that my friend’s post on Facebook is something really to ponder upon and not tinker with nature in the name of development by multinationals in the sheer greed for profit, pushing nature to a corner and thus asking it to install an anti-virus like coronavirus.