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The Planet After the Pandemic

Unlike previous recent disease outbreaks, COVID-19 has spurred unprecedented state intervention, with governments worldwide developing and implementing comprehensive recovery strategies. This provides a golden opportunity to entrench environmental protection and restoration in our economic systems.

BASEL – Scientists have little doubt: the destruction of nature makes humanity increasingly vulnerable to disease outbreaks like the COVID-19 pandemic, which has sickened millions, killed hundreds of thousands, and devastated countless livelihoods worldwide. It also will impede long-term economic recovery, because more than half of the world’s GDP depends on nature in some way. Could the COVID-19 crisis be the wake-up call – and, indeed, the opportunity – we need to change course?

While some politicians have claimed that a pandemic of this scale was unforeseen, many experts believed that it was all but inevitable, given the proliferation of zoonotic diseases (caused by pathogens that jump to humans from other animals). More than 60% of new infectious diseases now originate in animals.

This trend is linked directly to human activities. From intensive farming and deforestation to mining and the exploitation of wild animals, destructive practices that we dismiss as “business as usual” place us in ever-closer contact with animals, creating the ideal conditions for disease spillovers. In this sense, Ebola, HIV, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) – all of zoonotic origin – were warnings the world failed to heed.

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