As of February 21, 2020, the outbreak of coronavirus - staring in Wuhan City of Hubei Province, China in late 2019 - has killed more than 2.200 people and infected more than 76.700 others on a global scale. As the epidemic becomes pandemic, the Chinese government has temporarily banned wildlife trafficking. Worldwide conservationists hope the ban would be permanent to shut down illegal animal trade completely.
The acute respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus (nCoV) is spreading very fast and the situation has become highly critical in China, forcing the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the outbreak a pandemic. The novel coronavirus, which causes acute respiratory disease and can be transmitted from a person to one another, had not been identified until first infections were found at a live animal market in Wuhan, Hubei, China. There are six other types of coronavirus that have been learnt and all of them are person infectious.
The coronavirus is a betacoronavirus like the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The virus can be hosted by different kinds of animal such as camel, cat and bat. Genetic analysis of the virus is being implemented to address its accurate origin. SARS coronavirus originated from civet while MERS coronavirus originated from camel.
The virus was first found in animals, but it can spread from a person to one another. It is important to note that person-to-person infection can happen on a continuum. Person-to-person spread happens when people cough, sneeze and shake hands, allowing the virus -which is contained in body fluids - to transmit from one to another. As of February 21, 2020, the global death toll caused by the coronavirus has passed 2.000 and the number of infection cases outside China is increasing sharply.
A corner at Huanan market, Wuhan, China
Most of the infection cases outside China are people who travel from the epicenter Wuhan. Facing the new disease, WHO Direct General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned the disease can spark a global fire, calling the Governments to isolate the sparks and prevent them from spreading. The WHO on February 11, 2020 named the novel coronavirus Covid-19.
Facing the unpredictable developments of the new virus, the Chinese Government has banned wild animal trade at markets, restaurants and online platforms. The negative impact of illegal animal trafficking on wildlife species and global biodiversity has been well-known, but the effects on human health have remained questionable, unconcerned. The disease caused by the novel coronavirus, SARS, MERS and other epidemics and pandemics prove that governments and international organizations must work harder to raise public awareness about potential health issues that could be caused by illegal wildlife trafficking.
Live and dead animal markets are popular in Asian countries, especially in the Mekong Sub-region - a part of which is covered by Việt Nam, the Golden Triangle (near China) - where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet. Traps are placed everywhere by poachers to meet increasing market demand for wild animals. Consequently, it become an issue for all countries in the region as Asian tropical forests are becoming empty and special species are vanishing, which require governments to impose a permanent ban on animal trafficking. However, the ban – which is legalized in many regional nations – has not been implemented strictly.
Illegal animal trafficking is not the only threat to wildlife animals. Trafficked animals are not checked and quarantined, then they become a threat to the health of human and pet animals, and to the socio-economic development inside and outside the country. The coronavirus can infect animals and it can be transmitted from animals to people.
The virus lives in mammals and it can transform and transmit to people that stay close to the infected animals. It makes live animal market a good place for the virus to transform and infect people, causing serious damages. In addition, the rapid development of the transportation system and tourism allows infectees to carry the virus to larger places and spread the disease wider.
Viet Nam has seen its socio-economic development suffer critical damages caused by animal-originated diseases like SARS, and now Covid-19 has appeared. To prevent a potential outbreak, the Government needs to shut down illegal wild animal market for good and enhance the law enforcement on wildlife animal trafficking. In response to the spread of coronavirus, the Chinese Government bans wild animal trafficking and Việt Nam needs to act the same in order to help the global community prevent other animal-originated diseases from broadening in the future.
In the near future, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) will work closely with Asia-Pacific governments to strengthen their legal policies and encourage the public health sector to participate to end illegal wildlife trafficking and crack down unofficial markets.
To assure the national defense, economic security and community health as well as preserving precious local ecosystems, WWF also expects the Vietnamese Government to have stronger measures to stop all illegal trafficking and consumption activities in Việt Nam such as shutting down all illegal animal markets and restaurants; issuing mandates for e-commerce platforms, social network platforms and online media to monitor and remove all advertisements regarding illegal animal trading and consumption; developing regulations to strictly manage commercial animal farming; reforming legal procedures to prevent illegal animal trafficking crimes; and raising the awareness of Vietnamese people about potential risks and impacts brought by illegal wildlife trading.
Nguyễn Thị Phương Ngân
Nguyễn Thị Phú Hà
WWF in Việt Nam
(Bài đăng trên Tạp chí Môi trường số Chuyên đề Tiếng Anh I/2020)