In regards to the new and quickly spreading coronavirus, no one has yet claimed that China — or perhaps an enemy of China! — is engaging in biological warfare. No, not that. But folks are pointing to China and saying, Shame on you. And they’re closing their borders. And if they can, they’re putting distance between themselves and Chinese people. This is sad and potentially nasty.
Why do these deadly viruses seem to emerge in China more than elsewhere? For the record, HIV and ebola emerged in Africa, MERS in Saudi Arabia. In a New York Times op-ed the other day, an expert in infectious diseases and public health told us that certain virulent strains of influenza that continue to plague us began in China in the 16th century. Ducks were brought on to rice farms to eat crop-destroying insects and the ducks and pigs breeding in close proximity to each other created the microbial brew out of which a toxic flu developed.
The current viral outbreak may have begun in a Chinese seafood market where what we would call exotic wild animals — both live and dead— were to be purchased, butchered and eaten. New viruses often start just that way. This may be oversimplified, but essentially the germs that are local to a particular creature either jump right to humans or they first cross over to other species of animals, then become mutated or mixed enough to make the leap to humans.
I’ve long felt anger toward China for its callous disregard for wildlife — they’re not the only guilty nation, for sure. Their worship and utilization of ivory — an extraordinary artistic utilization, by the way — has been directly responsible for the suffering and death of hundreds of thousands of African elephants, though they recognize this and two years ago instituted a ban on the government-sanctioned ivory trade. Let’s hope it works. There are many Chinese people who are appalled at their country’s treatment of wild animals. They don’t think it’s a good idea for such animals to be sold in these markets and they’re working to change the culture so the practice ends. We should encourage them.
— Peter Porco
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