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WHO Findings in Wuhan Point Away from Lab and Towards Supply Chains

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Findings from the World Health Organization COVID-19 fact-finding team to Wuhan point away from a laboratory leak and toward a list of possibilities, all with one thing in common – animal supply chains.

Scientists from the WHO team said it was too early to determine which animal the virus jumped from, but reaffirm that COVID-19 is zoonotic, meaning it did at some point jump from an animal to a person.  The team pointed to the need for further investigations into supply chains coming from wildlife farms and Southeast Asia.  These may include seafood supply chains.

Further investigations into the exact origin are important, and will take time.  Meanwhile, Freeland reminds governments and the public that the next pandemic can be prevented by addressing the source of such zoonotic outbreaks.

“Whatever species this virus is eventually tied back to, it’s a zoonotic disease,” said Steven Galster, Founder of Freeland.  “We already know that the two biggest risks in sparking zoonotic outbreaks are destruction of wild habitat (which pushes wild animals into human populations and farms), and commercial trade in wild animals (which pulls wild animals into urban areas). In both cases, the animals can carry and shed a pathogen for which we have no immune response.”

“There’s no time to waste in taking bold measures to prevent the next outbreak,” urged Galster.  “It’s like we’ve just gone into a fuel station that blew up, looking for clues of what started the fire, and found multiple cigarette butts.

Zoonotic outbreaks

We could spend years trying to find out which cigarette –or even other factors—caused the explosion, but you can be sure that when we rebuild that fuel station, the no-smoking policy will be strongly enforced.  We need to act the same now with our post COVID-19 world.  We got hit by a viral bomb and we know what can ignite such bombs.”

“Wild animals –whether they are pangolins, fish, bats, whatever – are majestic and they are important — for our personal health and ecosystem health, so long as we leave them in their natural environments.  Pull or push them out of their homes, and we turn them into potential sticks of dynamite.  And it’s the consumers who light the match.

If we can end commercial trade in wild animals and stop destroying nature at the current dangerous rate, we can seriously reduce the risk and severity of recurrence in zoonotic outbreaks like COVID-19.”

Freeland has co-led a global campaign “End Pandemics” since late January 2020, and held multiple events, including this press conference in Bangkok on February 26, 2020 pointing to Southeast Asia-related supply chains into China, as well as wildlife markets across the region, describing them as “ticking time bombs.”

Freeland’s analytics team continues to produce reports and brief officials and lawmakers in Southeast Asia on the link between wildlife trade and pandemics.  An End Pandemics Roadmap on preventing the next outbreak is now being produced for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the global community.

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