Wisconsin reports 1,165 new confirmed COVID-19 cases Saturday, another single-day record

Natalie BrophyAppleton Post-Crescent0:001:33https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.400.1_en.html#goog_1674849591


Wisconsin health officials reported an additional 1,165 people have tested positive for COVID-19, another single-day record. 

Those positive cases made up 8.9% of the 13,162 test results reported by the Department of Health Services on Saturday. The seven-day average for positive tests stands at 6.1% as of Saturday. 

The state health department also reported Saturday that six more people have died, bringing the state’s total number of deaths to 996. Those who have died as a result of COVID-19 make up 1.7% of all those diagnosed, according to DHS. The majority of deaths are among those 70 and older. https://www.usatodaynetworkservice.com/tangstatic/html/papn/sf-q1a2z32fe45021.min.html

RELATED: Small businesses say masks, distancing are key to protecting and reviving local economies

RELATED: UW-Oshkosh football players, coach deal with canceled season

In total, 59,933 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Wisconsin. According to the state health department, around 16% of those cases remain active. DHS defines an active case as someone who is still alive, has been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last 30 days, and still has symptoms or has not been released from isolation. https://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Recent research from those studying the virus have found that even after someone has recovered from COVID-19 and no longer has symptoms, it’s possible for the virus to flare up again in some patients and symptoms can return. 

As of Saturday morning, 311 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized, 96 of them in intensive care. An additional 152 patients were hospitalized awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test. 

Deadly diseases from wildlife thrive when nature is destroyed, study finds

Rats and bats that host pandemic pathogens like Covid-19 increase in damaged ecosystems, analysis shows

Damian Carrington Environment editor @dpcarrington

Wed 5 Aug 2020 11.00 EDTLast modified on Wed 5 Aug 2020 11.18 EDT


The BR163 highway in Moraes Almeida district in the Amazon rainforest, Brazil, September 2019.
 The BR163 highway in Moraes Almeida district in the Amazon rainforest, Brazil, September 2019. Photograph: Nelson Almeida/AFP via Getty Images

The human destruction of natural ecosystems increases the numbers of rats, bats and other animals that harbour diseases that can lead to pandemics such as Covid-19, a comprehensive analysis has found.

The research assessed nearly 7,000 animal communities on six continents and found that the conversion of wild places into farmland or settlements often wipes out larger species. It found that the damage benefits smaller, more adaptable creatures that also carry the most pathogens that can pass to humans.

The assessment found that the populations of animals hosting what are known as zoonotic diseases were up to 2.5 times bigger in degraded places, and that the proportion of species that carry these pathogens increased by up to 70% compared with in undamaged ecosystems.Advertisementhttps://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Humans populations are being increasingly hit by diseases that originate in wild animals, such as HIV, Zika, Sars and Nipah virus. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, there have been a series of warnings from the UN and WHO that the world must tackle the cause of these outbreaks – the destruction of nature – and not just the health and economic symptoms.

In June, experts said the Covid-19 pandemic was an “SOS signal for the human enterprise”, while in April the world’s leading biodiversity experts said even more deadly disease outbreaks were likely unless nature was protected.

The new analysis is the first to show how the demolition of wild places, as the world’s population and consumption grows, leads to changes in animal populations that increase the risk of disease outbreaks. The research demonstrates that disease surveillance and healthcare needs to be ramped up in those areas where nature is being ravaged, the scientists said.

Sign up to the Green Light email to get the planet’s most important stories

 Read more

“As people go in and, for example, turn a forest into farmland, what they’re doing inadvertently is making it more likely for them to be in contact with an animal that carries disease,” said David Redding, of the ZSL Institute of Zoology in London, who was one of the research team. The work is published in the journal Nature.

Redding said the costs of disease were not being taken into account when deciding to convert natural ecosystems: “You’ve then got to spend a lot more money on hospitals and treatments.” A recent report estimated that just 2% of the costs of the Covid-19 crisis would be needed to help prevent future pandemics for a decade.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has awakened the world to the threat that zoonotic diseases pose to humans,” said Richard Ostfeld, at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, US, and Felicia Keesing at Bard College, US, in a commentary in Nature.

“With this recognition has come a widespread misperception that wild nature is the greatest source of zoonotic disease,” they said. “[This research] offers an important correction: the greatest zoonotic threats arise where natural areas have been converted to croplands, pastures and urban areas. The patterns the researchers detected were striking.”

The reason for species such as rodents and bats simultaneously thriving in ecosystems damaged by humans and also hosting the most pathogens is probably because they are small, mobile, adaptable and produce lots of offspring rapidly.

“The ultimate example is the brown rat,” Redding said. These fast-living species have an evolutionary strategy that favours large numbers of offspring ahead of a high survival rate for each one, which means they invest relatively little in their immune systems. “In other words, creatures that have rat-like life histories seem to be more tolerant of infections than do other creatures,” said Ostfeld and Keesing.

“In contrast, an elephant has a calf every couple of years,” said Redding. “It has to make sure that offspring survives, so it is born with a very strong and adaptive immune system.”

The analysis found that small, perching birds were also disease hosts that do well in habitats suffering from the impact of human activities. Such birds can be reservoirs of diseases such as West Nile virus and a type of chikungunya virus.

Humans have already affected more than half of the Earth’s habitable land. Prof Kate Jones, of the University College London, and also part of the research team, said: “As agricultural and urban lands are predicted to continue expanding in the coming decades, we should be strengthening disease surveillance and healthcare provision in those areas that are undergoing a lot of land disturbance, as they are increasingly likely to have animals that could be hosting harmful pathogens.”

Weak enforcement sees surging trade in Philippine pangolin, study shows

by Elizabeth Claire Alberts on 4 August 2020

A new report published by TRAFFIC found that the illegal pangolin trade in the Philippines increased nine-fold in the last two years, with the authorities confiscating an estimated 6,894 pangolins between 2018 and 2019.
Data included seizures of pangolin scales and retrievals of live pangolins that escaped from wildlife traffickers.
TRAFFIC researchers also conducted ad hoc surveys around Manila to discover pangolin meat being served at restaurants and shops selling pills made from pangolin derivatives.
It’s estimated that Philippine pangolins, a critically endangered species of the pangolin, have declined up to 95% in the last 40 years.

A single, wild pangolin wandered across a golf course in the Philippine’s Cavite province in March 2018. When the golf club staff spotted the scaly anteater, which was hundreds of miles from its natural habitat on the island of Palawan, they contacted the authorities to come retrieve it. The pangolin was eventually put into a rehabilitation program in an attempt to release it back into the wild; in the end, however, it didn’t make it.

While it’s not entirely clear how this Philippine pangolin (Manis
culionensis) wound up on a golf course, the most likely explanation is that it had escaped from the wildlife trade. In the Philippines, pangolins are a protected species, and anyone caught trading them faces hefty fines and prison sentences of up to 12 years. But this hasn’t stopped traders from stealing pangolins from the Palawan region and transporting them to various towns and cities to sell them for meat consumption or medicinal use.
A Philippine pangolin. Image by TRAFFIC.

According to a new report released today by TRAFFIC, an NGO that monitors the international trade of wild animals and plants, an estimated 740 Philippine pangolins were seized between 2000 and 2017.
But in the next two years, the trade increased nine-fold — between 2018 and 2019, authorities intercepted an estimated 6,894 pangolins, representing 90% of all pangolins caught up in the illegal trade in the Philippines over the last two decades.

But these estimates are probably quite conservative, according to Richard Thomas, global communications coordinator at TRAFFIC.

“[C]ertainly the detected seizures are just the tip of the iceberg,”
Thomas told Mongabay. “How many more seizures are ‘under water’ is anyone’s guess but I suspect the true figure would be jaw-dropping.”

The figures include a record-breaking bust in September 2019. Following a raid in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, authorities confiscated 1154 kilograms (2,545 pounds) of pangolin scales and other wildlife parts from a two-story home there. A Chinese national, who was already known to Palawan authorities for a previous attempt to smuggle wildlife, was implicated in the seizure. He may have been preparing to export the pangolin scales to China, according to TRAFFIC.
Confiscated pangolin scales in Cagayan de Oro City in 2017, reportedly heading to Guangdong, China. Image by TRAFFIC.

In the last two years, there were also 18 “retrieval incidents” of live pangolins found roaming the streets of towns near Manila or nearby provinces, including the pangolin spotted on the golf course, the report states.

TRAFFIC researchers also conducted ad hoc surveys in the Manila metropolitan area in 2018 and 2019, and discovered pangolin meat being served in at least five restaurants, although it was not advertised on the menu and only available on a pre-order basis. They also found three shops in Manila selling pills that were manufactured in China using pangolin derivatives.

“While the rise in pangolin seizures speaks to successful enforcement action, it is also deeply alarming news for this rare animal,” Elizabeth John, senior communications officer at TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia, said in a statement.
Imported “Armadillo antipyretic pills” reportedly containing pangolin derivatives. Image by TRAFFIC.

The Philippine pangolin is one of the most heavily poached and trafficked of the eight pangolin species, and is currently listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. Due to the shy, elusive nature of the pangolin, its population status is difficult to assess, but it’s believed that the subspecies has declined up to 95% over the past 40 years.

While comprehensive data isn’t yet available for 2020, the trade doesn’t appear to be slowing down. In January, authorities seized 20 Philippine pangolins from a local wildlife trafficker in El Nido, Palawan, and released them back into the wild. There have also been three more retrieval incidents of smuggled pangolins since the start of the year.

Historically, law enforcement officials haven’t penalized convicted traffickers to the full extent of the law, and this may be one element that’s exacerbating the illegal trade, according to TRAFFIC.
Poached pangolins in a trafficker’s facility in El Nido, Palawan. Image by TRAFFIC

“I think you’d have to say sentences simply haven’t been in the realm of acting as a sufficient deterrent,” Thomas said. “Take the example of the first successful conviction of traffickers outside Palawan — on paper they received a three month prison sentence and USD1,970 fine for illegally transporting 10 live pangolins but all three were released from custody after paying the fine and being granted probation.”

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in the Philippines recently acknowledged that the current penalties were not helping put a stop to wildlife crime in the Philippines, and officials have suggested that any convicted traffickers be given a mandatory minimum jail term of six years, and not be eligible for probation.

“With pressure continuing to mount, the only hope for the Philippine Pangolin is by stamping out the illegal trade through thorough investigations into poaching and trafficking cases, more prosecutions and solid convictions of traffickers,” John said.


Sy, E. Y., & Krishnasamy, K. (2020). Endangered by Trade: The Ongoing Illegal Pangolin Trade in the Philippines. Retrieved from TRAFFIC, Southeast Asia Regional Office website:


The pandemic highlights the gruesome animal abuses at US factory farms

Andrew Gawthorpe


Stories have emerged of mass killings of chickens and pigs, a tiny fraction of daily abuses heaped on farmed animals

Mon 3 Aug 2020 08.53 EDT


Among other methods, pigs have been killed by a method known as ventilator shutdown, in which the airways to a barn are closed off and steam is introduced.
 Among other methods, pigs have been killed by a method known as ventilator shutdown, in which the airways to a barn are closed off and steam is introduced. Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

More than any event in recent history, the coronavirus pandemic has made plain the consequences of our abuse of animals. From the Chinese wet market where the virus likely emerged to the American slaughterhouses which have become key vectors of transmission, our ravenous demand for cheap meat has been implicated in enormous human suffering. But the suffering is not ours alone. The pandemic has also focused our attention on how American agribusiness – which has benefited from deregulation under the Trump administration – abuses animals on an industrial scale.

Republican proposal slashes weekly unemployment benefits to $200 – as it happened

 Read more

As slaughterhouses across the nation have been forced to close by the virus, gruesome stories have emerged of the mass killing of millions of chickens and pigs who can no longer be brought to market. Chickens have been gassed or smothered with a foam in which they slowly suffocate. Among other methods, pigs – whose cognitive abilities are similar to dogs – have been killed by a method known as ventilator shutdown, in which the airways to a barn are closed off and steam is introduced. A whistleblower’s video shows thousands of pigs dying as they are slowly suffocated and roasted to death overnight.

Although the pandemic has focused attention on these incidents, they represent a tiny fraction of the daily abuses heaped on farmed animals. The billions of animals slaughtered every year in the United States are intelligent, sensitive beings capable of feeling a range of emotions. They are driven to raise their young and form complex social structures, both impossible under the conditions of modern farming. Instead, they live short, painful, disease-ridden lives. Chickens, who make up over 90% of the animals slaughtered every year, suffer the worst. Their deaths are subject to effectively no federal regulation, meaning the birds are frequently frozen, boiled, drowned or suffocated to death.

Trump has moved to deregulate agribusiness even further, giving companies that abuse animals freer rein to prioritize profit over welfare

Unsurprisingly, the Trump administration has moved to deregulate agribusiness even further, giving companies that abuse animals freer rein to prioritize profit over welfare. The administration dropped enforcement of animal welfare statutes and moved forward with proposals to reduce the role of government inspectors in overseeing conditions at slaughterhouses – proposals which an inspector general says are based on faulty data. The administration also removed from public view a searchable database of animal inspection reports, shielding abusers from scrutiny. The records only went back online when Congress forced the administration’s hand.Advertisementhttps://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

As in other areas, the culture war waged by Trump’s supporters has enabled his pro-business policies. “Soy boy” has emerged as the insult of choice among the alt-right, identifying meat consumption and complicity with animal suffering as markers of masculinity. When the right cast the Green New Deal as an assault on the American way of life, they were sure to include copious meat consumption among the precious tenets under threat. “They want to take your hamburgers,” former White House aide Sebastian Gorka told a conservative audience, equating the Green New Deal with “Communism”. The reactionary writer Jordan Peterson, who has made a fortune from trolling the left, even chimed in by claiming to follow an all-beef diet.

Bringing an end to the atrocity which is America’s system of animal agriculture requires challenging both the coziness of the government-agribusiness connection and the cultural norms which underpin it. But other recent developments have shown how hard this will be. Sales of meatless meat have exploded in recent years, but they remain a tiny fraction of overall sales. Meanwhile, although Cory Booker became only the second vegan to seek a major party presidential nomination, the strength of cultural and political headwinds prevented him from drawing a link between his dietary preferences and public policy. When pushed, he embraced the framing of the issue favored among the right, declaring the freedom to eat meat “one of our most sacred values”.

As concern over abusive practices on factory farms and public interest in alternative diets have grown, businesses and their political allies have fought back with laws intended to restrict the information and choice available to consumers. So-called “ag-gag” laws, which criminalize undercover investigations of conditions on farms, have been joined by state laws preventing plant-based alternatives from using labels such as “meat” or “sausage”. The Food and Drug Administration is even considering a nationwide ban on the use of the word “milk” to label alternatives derived from soy or oats, in an effort to protect the dairy industry.

In the face of so many vested interests, even the harm caused by the pandemic looks unlikely to lead to fundamental change in America’s system of food production anytime soon. But there are glimmers of hope. When meat supplies dwindled in the first weeks of the lockdown, sales of plant-based products surged, suggesting consumers see them as a genuine alternative. If these products can be improved to a point where they can compete with meat on taste and cost, consumers and even the meat industry might embrace them on a large scale, potentially spelling the end of industrialized animal abuse.

For both the billions of animals raised and killed each year and for ourselves, that day cannot come soon enough. There is nothing natural or inevitable about factory farms, which have transformed human agriculture into a monstrosity which would be unrecognizable to previous generations. After they pass into history, future generations will view them as one of the greatest crimes ever perpetrated by humankind. As coronavirus ravages our economies and our bodies, it is clearer than ever that only a pervasive and self-defeating blindness prevents us from seeing factory farms the same way.

  • Andrew Gawthorpe is a historian of the United States at Leiden University

Over 10,000 Tyson Employees Reportedly Test Positive For Covid

Jul 30, 2020,05:16pm EDT

Alexandra SternlichtForbes StaffBusinessI cover breaking news



Over 10,000 Tyson Foods meat processing employees have contracted Covid-19 since the pandemic began, according to a study by the Food & Environment Reporting Network, which was released today as the company announced it would implement weekly Covid-19 testing at a number of plants.

Tyson Foods Makes Offer For Hillshire Brands
Tyson Foods’ brands include Tyson, Hillshire Farm and Jimmy Dean. JOE RAEDLE/GETTY IMAGES


At least 49,369 U.S. meatpacking, food processing and farmworkers have contracted Covid-19 since March, 10,104 of whom were meatpackers at Tyson foods, according to a July 30 report by the FERN.

Also July 30, Tyson Foods announced they would hire a chief medical officer, 200 nurses and implement weekly Covid-19 testing for employees at 140 meat production factories.

Second quarter revenue dropped 15% for the meat giant whose brands include Jimmy Dean, Hillshire Farm and Sara Lee.

“While the protective measures we’ve implemented in our facilities are working well, we remain vigilant about keeping our team members safe and are always evaluating ways to do more,” Donnie King, Tyson Foods group president and chief administrative officer said in the announcement.

Other meatpacking companies JBS and Smithfield Foods have 2,000-plus workers who have tested positive for Covid-19.

PROMOTEDP&G BRANDVOICE | Paid ProgramP&G Paves Path For Meaningful Virtual Internship ExperienceP&G BRANDVOICE | Paid ProgramP&G Paves Path For Meaningful Virtual Internship ExperienceGrads of Life BRANDVOICE | Paid ProgramYear Up’s Shift To Virtual Operations


100,000. That’s roughly the number of Tyson Foods employees, according to CNN.


In April, Tyson said that “millions of pounds of meat” will disappear from grocery store shelves with closures of meat processing facilities due to Covid-19 outbreaks among workers. At that point, Tyson employees told CNN they were being pressured to come to work, though they did not feel working conditions were safe.


On April 16, Smithfield Foods’ meat processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota became the largest Covid-19 hotspot in the U.S. with 735 Covid-19 cases among workers, according to Forbes.


Mapping Covid-19 outbreaks in the food system (FERN)

Tyson Foods Launches New, Nationwide COVID Monitoring Strategy; Expands Health Staff (Tyson)

‘The food supply chain is breaking,’ Tyson says as plants close (CNN)

Smithfield Foods Becomes Largest Coronavirus Hotbed In United States, South Dakota Governor Yet To Mandate Stay Home Order (Forbes)

Full coverage and live updates on the Coronavirus

Beyond banning wildlife trade: COVID-19, Conservation and Development


Calls to ban wildlife trade have been a key response to COVID-19 but are not the solution.

The major drivers of the emergence of infectious diseases include habitat destruction and industrialised livestock production.

Indiscriminate wildlife trade bans risk doing more harm than good, both from a conservation and development perspective.

Conservation–linked responses to COVID-19 need to address the key drivers, respect rights and ensure local participation in decision-making.
One of the immediate responses to COVID-19 has been a call to ban wildlife trade given the suspected origin of the pandemic in a Chinese market selling and butchering wild animals. There is clearly an urgent need to tackle wildlife trade that is illegal, unsustainable or carries major risks to human health, biodiversity conservation or meeting acceptable animal welfare standards. However, some of the suggested actions in these calls go far beyond tackling these risks and have the potential to undermine human rights, damage conservation incentives and harm sustainable development. There are a number of reasons for this concerns. First calls for bans on wildlife markets often include calls for bans on wet market, but the two are not the same thing, and wet markets can be a critical underpinning of informal food systems. Second, wildlife trade generates essential resources for the world’s most vulnerable people, contributing to food security for millions of people, particularly in developing countries. Third, wildlife trade bans have conservation risks including driving trade underground, making it even harder to regulate, and encouraging further livestock production.
Fourth, in many cases, sustainable wildlife trade can provide key incentives for local people to actively protect species and the habitat they depend on, leading to population recoveries. Most importantly, a singular focus on wildlife trade overlooks the key driver of the emergence of infectious diseases: habitat destruction, largely driven by agricultural expansion and deforestation, and industrial livestock production. We suggest that the COVID-19 crisis provides a unique opportunity for a paradigm shift both in our global food system and also in our approach to conservation. We make specific suggestions as to what this entail but overriding all is that local people must be at the heart of such policy shifts.
See: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305750X20302485

We are entering an era of pandemics – it will end only when we protect the rainforest

Peter Daszak

Reducing deforestation and the exploitation of wildlife are the first steps in breaking the chain of disease emergence

Tue 28 Jul 2020 01.00 EDTLast modified on Wed 29 Jul 2020 14.10 EDT


Transportation of timber logs, Amazon rainforest Brazil
 Logging in the Brazilian rainforest. ‘Human activity has created a continuous cycle of viral spillover and spread.’ Photograph: Brazil Photos/LightRocket via Getty Images

In late 2013, in the village of Meliandou in rural Guinea, a group of children playing near a hollow tree disturbed a small colony of bats hiding inside. Scientists think that Emile Ouamouno, who later became the first tragic “index” case in the west African Ebola outbreak, was likely exposed to bat faeces whileplaying near the tree.

Every pandemic starts like this. An innocuous human activity, such as eating wildlife, can spark an outbreak that leads to a pandemic. In the 1920s, when HIV is thought to have emerged in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, scientists believe transmission to humans could have been caused by a bushmeat hunter cutting themselves while butchering a chimpanzee. In 2019, we can speculate that a person from south-west China entered a bat cave near their village to hunt wildlife for sale at the local wet market. Perhaps they later developed a nagging cough that represents the beginning of what we now know as Covid-19.Now, a growing human population, ever-encroaching development and a globalised network of travel and trade have accelerated the pace of pandemic emergence. We’re entering a new pandemic era.Advertisementhttps://6e1601c5dd35a5062108976ebb5bcf12.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Most pandemics begin in the emerging disease hotspots of the world; the edges of forests in regions such as west Africa, the Amazon basin and south-east Asia. Tropical rainforests are home to a rich diversity of wildlife, which in turn carry an array of viruses. We know far more about these animals than we do about the viruses they carry. An estimated 1.7m viruses exist in mammals and birds (the origins of most pandemics), but less than 0.1% have been described. They spread to millions of people each year; though they often don’t cause noticeable symptoms, the sheer volume means that plenty can.

Before humans became an agricultural species, our populations were sparser and less connected. A virus infecting a hunter-gatherer might only reach family members or perhaps a hunting group. But the Anthropocene, our new geological epoch, has changed everything. A great acceleration of human activity has dramatically altered our planet’s landscapes, oceans and atmosphere, transforming as much as half of the world’s tropical forest into agriculture and human settlements.

Sign up to the Green Light email to get the planet’s most important stories

 Read more

About one-third of emerging diseases are the product of these rapid changes in land use, as people are pushed into contact with wildlife they would once have rarely encountered. The viruses that emerge, such as Zika, Ebola and Nipah, include the latest of our foes, Covid-19, transported from the altered rural landscape of China to a city near you.

Human activity has created a continuous cycle of viral spillover and spread. Our current approach is to wait for outbreaks to start, and then design drugs or vaccines to control them. But as we’ve seen with Covid-19, this approach isn’t good enough: while we wait for a vaccine, hundreds of thousands of people have died, and millions have been infected. By the time the US produced sufficient doses to vaccinate against the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009, the virus had already infected about a quarter of the people on our planet.

If we are to prevent future pandemics, we will need to reassess our relationship with nature, blocking each step in the chain of disease emergence. This should begin with reducing the rampant consumption that drives deforestation and wildlife exploitation. We’ll also need to remove viral-risk species from wildlife markets, crack down on the illegal wildlife trade and work with communities to find alternatives. We should be putting more pressure on industries that harvest tropical timber and wildlife products, rewarding corporate sustainability and legislating against overconsumption. Consumer-led campaigns against palm oil, for example, have had a ripple effect on sustainability.

In a recently published paper, a number of scientists, myself included, laid out the economic case for preventing the disease spillover that leads to pandemics by reducing deforestation and the wildlife trade. We estimate that the annual costs of programmes to reduce deforestation and the wildlife trade and build pandemic surveillance in disease hotspots would be $17.7–26.9bn, more than three orders of magnitude smaller than the current estimate cost of Covid-19 economic damages, of $8.1-15.8tn. Our costs include the collateral benefits of carbon sequestration by reducing forest loss. While the coronavirus pandemic has devastated the global economy, our current trajectory could see the cost of future pandemics rocket into the tens of trillions.

As we rebuild our economies after the coronavirus pandemic, rather than returning to the system of unchecked consumption that brought us Covid-19, we have an opportunity to green our economies. Centuries of environmental exploitation have put us in a fragile position on this planet. While some may balk at the costs of avoiding environmental breakdown, or fail to understand the value of preserving a species of butterfly, frog or fish, most of us recognise that Covid-19 has brought death and economic misery on a global scale. Once we accept that human activity is what led to this, we may finally be empowered to escape the pandemic era.

• Peter Daszak is president of EcoHealth Alliance, a non-profit dedicated to analysing and preventing pandemics

Covid-19 only a the dress rehearsal for pandemics


27 JUL 2020SAVE | EMAIL | PRINT |  PDF   Some scientists feel that the current Covid-19 pandemic, which has already infected more than 16-million and killed more than 600,000 worldwide, is only a dress rehearsal for an even bigger pandemic.Covid-19 only a the dress rehearsal for pandemicsProfessor Robert Bragg, researcher in the Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology, and Professor Aliza le Roux, assistant dean: natural and agricultural sciences and associate professor: zoology and entomology at the University of the Free State (UFS), warn about future pandemics, saying that humans’ interaction with animals and lack of learning from the past are the reasons for this.

Another researcher, Dr Martin Nyaga, senior lecturer/ researcher: next generation sequencing (NGS), agrees with Bragg and Le Roux about new viruses and says viruses will keep emerging due to their general nature.

More pandemics might be on the cards

“There is a feeling among some scientists that this could just be a dress rehearsal for the real big pandemic. Many virologists, including me, have been predicting an influenza pandemic for many years. Mankind has been warned about the coming pandemics for many years, but people seem to want to listen only when they are in the midst of a pandemic.

“The bird-flu virus, Influenza H5N1, has a mortality rate of around 60-65%, but it has not yet developed human-to-human transmission. If it does, we could be in for a really serious pandemic,” says Bragg.

Humans’ need for affordable meat on a regular basis is creating the perfect breeding ground for more diseases like this. “This means our demand for meat is driving cheaper and less controlled agricultural practices, cramming more animals into smaller spaces, feeding them less and less natural fodder.

“Remember mad cow disease? Have you seen chicken batteries? We should not blame ‘exotic’ eating practices, but look at our own. If we could see eating meat as a ‘treat’ and not a daily ‘right’, we can reduce pressure on the environment and reduce the speed at which another zoonotic virus can evolve,” says Le Roux.

Nyaga says that more viruses are possible in other organisms as well. “In as much as research on viral particles continues, more outbreaks are possible within not only the coronavirus domain, but also any other class of organisms. The ever-changing nature of viruses, mainly due to mutations and other mechanisms of genetic diversity, could occur through chain of transmission, including via the intermediate hosts. This kind of antigenic mutations could make the general population vulnerable due to lack of immunity against the new strains of emerging strains or completely novel viruses.”

Origin of SARS-CoV-2 and other diseases

According to Bragg, the previous coronavirus that led to SARS and caused major concerns, also started in a wet food market in China – just like Covid-19. That virus was traced to a civet cat meat. This virus had a very high mortality rate but could only be transmitted when a person showed clinical signs. Therefore, measuring the temperature of people was useful and beneficial.

“There are many other examples of serious human pandemics which was spread from animals to humans. Another good example is the Ebola virus, which has also been traced to people eating bats in Africa. Yet another example is HIV, which is believed to have spread to man as a result of the consumption of chimpanzee meat.

“The most serious has been the 1918 Spanish flu, which started off in pigs and spread to man. All of these have to do with the mistreatment of animals by man.

Learning from past pandemics

Le Roux says past pandemics can teach us how to respond from a public health perspective. “If we found treatments that worked before, we can use that as a starting point for current treatments. But if we can’t even control human behaviour (learning from past mistakes), think of how much more challenging it is to develop a vaccine against a virus that is so adaptable.”

Prof Bragg adds: “Mankind should also have learned lessons from the 1918 pandemic, but man is notoriously slow at learning lessons from the past. Each generation wants to make their own mistakes. One can only draw parallels from the people who defined lockdown regulations in 1918 to celebrate the end of the First World War and the demonstrations currently underway in the USA.

“The celebrations in 1918 caused more deaths than have occurred during the four years of the First World War. I predict that within a week or two, the number of cases and mortalities in the USA (and around the world) are going to skyrocket,” says Bragg.

Knowing the animals involved

Nyaga explains that identification of the source (reservoir hosts) and the intermediate host(s) is crucial in devising strategies, including palliative measures and designing drugs or vaccines against a potential pathogenic agent such as SARS-CoV-2. This will help in understanding the genomic dynamics and likely immunological responses that could be triggered along the chain of transmission to humans, and more importantly, how the compounds in the therapies can terminate the different stages of viral replication.

Le Roux says she is not sure if a vaccine would be developed based on knowledge of a host species, but there is the possibility that (depending on the species) we can use some of the host’s antibodies to develop our own antibody therapies. “But generally, the knowledge can help more long-term planning on how to avoid future host shifts to humans. If we know where the virus originated, we can study that species or group of species better, and understand how the mutations occurred, etc. It would help us with future prevention more than current mitigation, I think.”

Research in the fight against Covid-19

According to the experts, various research efforts are afoot on the control of the disease. These range from the development of a vaccine, development of antiviral drugs, and the development of monoclonal antibodies or antibody fragments. Research is also needed on improved, faster, and cheaper diagnostic tests to test for the presence of the virus as well as for the detection of antibodies against the virus in people. This last test is needed to demonstrate the efficacy of vaccines as well as people in the population who have recovered from the virus.

Bragg says research on the epidemiology of the virus is also needed. How far it can spread and how long it can survive are critical questions, particularly when talking about social distancing. Much of the current information is based on guesswork. “Worldwide, research efforts are gaining an understanding of the virus and how it is causing disease in humans. If you think that this virus was unknown before December 2019, mankind has very quickly learned a lot about this virus and there are many very interesting articles coming out on what receptors the virus binds to and how the virus causes damage to the host and overcomes the host defence mechanisms.”

Nyaga says while the understanding of SARS-CoV-2 and Covid-19 is still in its infancy, results are already emerging on the molecular dynamics and immunological perspectives of the virus. With the characterisation of the genomic sequences of the virus, it has been possible to design several vaccines, including the inactivated virus, viral vectors, nucleic acid-based and protein-based vaccines. A good number of them are currently under clinical trials for possible WHO qualification towards global use. “Just recently, a clinical trial on one of these vaccines, called ‘the South African Ox1Cov-19 Vaccine VIDA-trial’, was on schedule locally to be championed by the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg,.”

According to him, effective prevention essentially requires an in-depth understanding of the clinical severity of Covid19, the extent of transmission and infection, and the efficacy of treatment options in order to accelerate the development of diagnostics and treatment options.

Bragg says that the socio-economic impact of the virus is very serious at this stage. The final number of human cases and fatalities are still a long way from completion. This virus is going to be with us for quite some time and the mortality rate in some countries with high levels of HIV and TB could become very high.