While it is expected that the Covid-19 outbreak will come to an end on completion of the inoculation process, many infectious disease researchers and experts are bracing to prevent the next pandemic.
According to the experts, another virus may jump from wildlife to humans, one that is far more lethal but spreads as easily as SARS-CoV-2. A virus like that could change the trajectory of life on the planet.
Christian Walzer, executive director of health at the Wildlife Conservation Society, said: “What keeps me up at night is that another coronavirus like MERS, which has a much, much higher mortality rate, becomes as transmissible as Covid. The logistics and the psychological trauma of that would be unbearable.”
The mortality rate of Covid-19 is less than 1 per cent, while the mortality rate for the Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS — which spread from camels into humans — is 35 per cent. Other viruses that have come from animals, including bat-borne Nipah, have a mortality rate as high as 75 per cent.
Raina Plowright, a virus researcher at the Bozeman Disease Ecology Lab in Montana, said: “There is a huge diversity of viruses in nature, and there is the possibility that one has the Goldilocks characteristics of pre-symptomatic transmission with a high fatality rate.” (Covid-19 is highly transmissible before the onset of symptoms but fortunately is far less lethal than several other known viruses.) “It would change civilisation.”
One Planet, One Health
According to the analysis published in the journal News Medical and Life Sciences, this is why in November the German Federal Foreign Office and the Wildlife Conservation Society held a virtual conference called One Planet, One Health, One Future.
The conference aimed at heading off the next pandemic by helping world leaders understand that killer viruses like SARS-CoV-2 — and many other less deadly pathogens — are unleashed on the world by the destruction of nature.
Infectious disease experts are scrambling to show the robust connection between the health of nature, wildlife and humans. It is a concept known as One Health.
Experts predict it would cost about $700 billion to institute these and other measures. On the other hand, it’s estimated that Covid-19 has cost $26 trillion in economic damage, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.
The spillover of animal, or zoonotic, viruses into humans causes some 75 per cent of emerging infectious diseases.
Experts have blamed climate change, expansion of businesses, industries, agriculture, and widespread meat consumption, among others, as preliminary reasons for the spillover.
Researchers said the clock is ticking. “We have high human population densities, high livestock densities, high rates of deforestation — and these things are bringing bats and people into closer contact. We are rolling the dice faster and faster and more and more often. It’s really quite simple,” they added.
The findings of the study were published in the journal Kaiser Health News.