By William J. Furney
No one wants to hear it, but all the global health crises in recent years have been due to zoonotic diseases — pathogens that have jumped from animals to humans because of our lust for meat.
As of now, the latest such killer bug, novel coronavirus, has slain almost 29,000 people around the world and infected nearly 615,000, with almost every country on the planet affected. All because people in China decided they needed to eat either bats or snakes, according to research from several Chinese universities.
But humans’ addiction to meat — disclosure: I have been vegetarian for decades, since I was around 12, and have been vegan for several years now, a natural evolution in ethical and healthy living — means not only is no one questioning where and why this killer bug came about, but how such a global pandemic can be stopped from erupting and devastating the world all over again.
We’ll just muddle through this health emergency that’s also seeing millions in lockdown and isolation and not worry if anything like this might ever happen again.
Several petitions are running online to try and get China to pay for this catastrophe — not just the eating of dangerous wild animals that unleashed the virus but authorities’ bungling (suppression) of the emerging situation late last year, as well as their well-documented forcing of a young doctor who subsequently died of the virus to admit he was “seriously disrupt[ing] social order” as he tried to raise the alarm.
One petition, on Change.org, is calling for China to make reparations of the kind Germany did over World War II. “Just like Germany in WW II, China shall be held responsible for their actions world wide. With your help we can get the US government and hopefully other nations to wield change,” it says, demonstrating the alarm with which China allows its people to sell and eat exotic creatures (or use them for sexual enhancement), even if local governments are starting to clamp down on such practices that are hazardous to human health.
We’ve had SARS; we’ve had swine flu; and now we have this Covid-19 disaster — all bugs that originated in China’s animal markets and that went on to kill people around the world. The latest has cut a bloody swathe through Europe, with over 10,000 dead in Italy and the pope reduced to saying mass in a deserted St Peter’s Square, and by video; in Spain, close to 6,000 have perished, mostly in the capital, Madrid, and surrounding regions; and fatalities are rising in the UK (over 1,000), which only this week went into nationwide lockdown, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson and several of his ministers succumbed to the virus and went into self-isolation (as did the country’s king-in-waiting, Prince Charles).
The unstoppable and microscopic bit of RNA is now ravaging the United States, and blustering Donald Trump is trying to keep up and reassure Americans that things will soon be back to normal and the suddenly faltering economy will be great again by Easter — now just a couple of weeks away — and as more than three million Americans have lost their jobs and filed for unemployment. The election train has also halted, and many wonder if Trump has the mettle to arrest the health and economic freefall and get reelected come November.
The US has registered over 1,800 deaths as of now and has the highest number of infections globally, at 112,468. After a couple of months of lockdown in China, 81,999 cases of infection and 3,299 deaths were recorded, and cities are slowly starting to lift their lockdowns and return to some semblance of normal life. Meanwhile, the world’s sole superpower, in terms of military and economic might, is quickly being brought to its knees by a killer it cannot even see.
What everyone wants to know is when it’s all going to end. If we look at the example of China, it’s going to take a couple of months at least, and that’s for countries that, like China, enacted lockdown and quarantine measures early on and didn’t dither, like the UK, thinking they were impervious as infection rates and death tolls rose. No, it’s not just a disease that afflicts the elderly and those with existing health conditions; it’s a slayer of young and old, healthy and fit, doctors and prime ministers and more. Thankfully I survived my infection.
And when it is finally over and the world breathes easily again — a collective sigh of relief from the planet’s 7.8 billion people, minus those who sadly lost their lives to coronavirus — do we just carry on as normal, eating whatever animals we want, potentially splitting yet more barriers between the species and opening up another world of killer viruses? Or will we, for once, get smart and ditch meat and all its many hazards, including to the planet, and just eat healthy and life-affirming plants?
Meat-eaters are laughing already.
- Title photograph shows Canadians Chris and Anna Joiner on board a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship, the MS Zaandam, off Panama City on March 27. Credit: Chris Joiner.