Human choices and the coronavirus
PERSPECTIVE - Cherry Piquero-Ballescas (The Freeman) - January 30, 2020 - 12:00am

“Unknowns complicate response.”

What is confirmed is the increase in the death toll (132) and in the cases affected by the Wuhan coronavirus (4,000 to 6,000, as of January 28).

The cause and process of spread remain unsolved. Speculations range from the virus starting with live animals at a Wuhan market to virus transferred via nose, ears, virus spreading in cold temperatures, and so on.

The world, however, needs correct and confirmed data, soonest!

Until the cause is determined, a vaccine is not available. If the cause is finally traced, even then, it may take at least a year to have a cure and vaccine ready for human consumption.

What is known is that the new coronavirus has spread beyond Wuhan, beyond China. What is confirmed is that the virus is spreading fast.

While not yet declared a global health emergency, it is already an emergency in areas affected by the virus, one with definite impact on people’s movement, travel, tourism, trade with China, and, relationships among local and global communities.

The world has to unite and battle this new strain in order to protect all at the soonest time possible.

“We Made the Coronavirus Epidemic,” according to David Quammen, author of “Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic.”(See The New York Times, January 28).

He notes that the “novel coronavirus of 2019” is not that new.

It was first recognized to have infected humans late last year- in a seafood and live-animal market in Wuhan- and it belongs to the notorious coronavirus family” which included “SARS of 2002-3 which infected 8,098 people worldwide, killing 774 of them, and MERS that began on the Arabian Peninsula in 2012 and still lingers (2,494 people infected and 858 deaths as of November).”

“In 2005, in a cave in Yunnan, roughly a thousand miles southwest of Wuhan, Ms. Shi and co-researchers showed that the SARS pathogen was a bat virus that spilled over into people. In a 2017 paper, they had found coronaviruses in multiple individuals of four different species of bats, including one called the intermediate horseshoe bat, the genome of which, Ms. Shi and her colleagues have now announced, is 96 percent identical to the Wuhan virus recently found in humans.”

Quammen observed: the coronavirus “may have started with a bat in a cave, but human activity set it loose, such as the perilous (world) trade in wildlife for food- with bats, civets, porcupines, turtles, bamboo rats, many kinds of birds and other animals piled together in markets like Wuhan.”

“We invade tropical forests and other wild landscapes, which harbor so many species of animals and plants — and within those creatures, so many unknown viruses. We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.”

Quammen includes “bureaucrats who lie and conceal bad news, and elected officials who brag to the crowd about cutting forests to create jobs in the timber industry and agriculture or about cutting budgets for public health and research.”

Quammen concludes: “We are faced with two mortal challenges.”

“In the short term- we must do everything we can, with intelligence, calm and a full commitment of resources, to contain and extinguish this nCoV-2019 outbreak before it becomes, as it could, a devastating global pandemic. “

“In the long term: we must remember, when the dust settles, that nCoV-2019 was not a novel event or a misfortune that befell us. It was — it is — part of a pattern of choices that we humans are making.”

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