G20 health ministers will meet on Sunday, 19 April to agree measures to prevent another pandemic of coronavirus. A global ban on wild animal exploitation and trading – which is likely to be the source of the COVID-19 epidemic – will be an essential step.
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Many governments are taking laudable steps in order to stop the spread of coronavirus, despite the rising global death toll. The impact on the world’s economy and population was severe and will continue to affect us for years. We must stop another pandemic from happening.
To avoid another pandemic in the future, it is important to understand the source of the pandemic. COVID-19, also known as the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS2), is a zoonotic disorder that originated in animals and was then passed on to humans. It caused the epidemic.
Overall, 60% of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic. 70% of them are thought to be zoonotic. COVID-19, as well as previous pandemics involving virus-related diseases, was a case in point.
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This extends beyond live animal markets
However, the larger picture is obscured by a narrow focus on live animal market. The most visible and shocking part of global wild animal trade is the live animal market. This is not only horrendous, but also extremely dangerous.
Millions of wild animals worldwide are captured and bred every year to be used as pets, medicine, and entertainment. Their lives are often filled with boredom, abuse, and suffering for those who are not killed immediately after being captured.
It should be illegal to trade in wildlife. The COVID-19 tragedy demonstrates that wildlife trade is not just a disaster for animals, but also a risk to global health.
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The threat to wildlife trade
Because wild animal diseases pose a limited risk to humans, if they are not spread to humans by the animals themselves, there is usually no danger to them.
It is rare for pathogens to jump between wild species, which reduces the chance of people contracting them. Wildlife trade is where this changes. The wildlife trade often brings together animals that have never had contact with each other in the wild, creating a hotbed for lethal diseases.
The animals are also subject to extreme stress and ill health, which makes it more likely that they will contract infection or transmit pathogens. The trade allows for the spread of new diseases and species by allowing these animals to come in contact with people.
We must stop the international wildlife trade.
To prevent future outbreaks of disease, we must rethink our relationships with wild animals. Exploiting and modifying wild animals for any purpose is not only unethical but also dangerous. It is time to practice social distancing among wild animals and humans, so that wild animals can remain where they belong.
Already there are positive signs that things are changing. Already, the Chinese government has banned wild animals from being traded for human consumption. The Vietnamese government is currently considering a similar ban. There are fears that live animal markets could reopen once lockdowns are lifted. This is similar to what happened after the 2003 SARS coronavirus epidemic.
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Like previous international crises before, the G20 must show leadership. We must make sure they do. All wildlife trade must be banned. They should also be made permanent, comprehensive, and properly enforced. Waiting for the next coronavirus species barrier to be breached and causing more destruction and death is not an option. This outcome is the number one priority for G20 health ministers.