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Humans are responsible for the transmission of coronaviruses from animals to humans, Germany’s leading COVID-19 expert has said.
The virus, which is believed to have originated from China, has spread globally killing more than 212,000 people at the time of writing.
Now Christian Drosten, director of the Institute of Virology at the Charité Hospital in Berlin, has shared his thoughts on the pandemic in an exclusive interview with The Guardian.
While the general consensus has been that the virus originated from a wet market in Wuhan, Drosten says he ‘doesn’t assume that it started’ there.
He added: “It is more likely to have started where the animal – the intermediate host – was bred.”
When asked whether human activities are responsible for the spillover of coronaviruses from animals into people, Drosten replied: “Coronaviruses are prone to switch hosts when there is opportunity, and we create such opportunities through our non-natural use of animals – livestock.
“Livestock animals are exposed to wildlife, they are kept in large groups that can amplify the virus, and humans have intense contact with them – for example through the consumption of meat – so they certainly represent a possible trajectory of emergence for coronaviruses.
“Camels count as livestock in the Middle East, and they are the host of the Mers virus as well as human coronavirus 229E – which is one cause of the common cold – while cattle were the original hosts for coronavirus OC43, which is another.”
‘The only species responsible’
Drosten is not alone in his thinking: a group of leading biodiversity scientists published a guest article earlier this week on the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), saying the only species that is responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic is humans – and worse will follow unless we are ‘extremely careful about the possible impacts of the choices we make today’.
Professors Josef Settele, Sandra Díaz, Eduardo Brondizio, and Dr. Peter Daszak, says recent pandemics are ‘a direct consequence of human activity – particularly our global financial and economic systems, based on a limited paradigm that prizes economic growth at any cost’. But they believe there is a ‘small window of opportunity’ while overcoming the current pandemic to prevent laying the ground for further crises.
They wrote: “Responding to the COVID-19 crisis calls for us all to confront the vested interests that oppose transformative change, and to end ‘business as usual’. We can build back better and emerge from the current crisis stronger and more resilient than ever – but to do so means choosing policies and actions that protect nature – so that nature can help to protect us.”