Gov’t urged: Prevent new animal-to-human viruses

THE coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) pandemic has underscored the need for government to forcefully put in check the human exploitation of wildlife to prevent the possible transfer of “zoonotic” coronaviruses to people, a House leader said on Thursday.

“We have a 19-year-old law that operates not just to safeguard our ecosystems, but also to shield us from potentially destructive diseases that may be transmitted to communities on account of the rampant human abuse of wildlife,” said Anakalusugan party-list Rep.

Michael Defensor, the chairman of the House committee on public accounts and one-time Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources.

Defensor was referring to the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Law of 2001, or Republic Act 9147.

“There are several known coronaviruses circulating in wildlife that have not yet infected humans,” Defensor, House health committee vice chairperson, warned.

“Whether the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 came from a bat, a pangolin, or a civet cat, we really have to rigorously enforce the law that prohibits and criminalizes the hunting, collection, possession and transport of wildlife or their by-products and derivatives,” said Defensor.

“Creatures that thrive in the wild are harmless by themselves,” Defensor said.

The lawmaker also warned that rapid deforestation and urbanization could put wildlife in closer contact with people and more vulnerable to human misuse in the years ahead.

A world-renowned virologist, Dr. Danielle Anderson, recently expressed “90 percent confidence” that the new coronavirus that has so far infected more than 660,000 people and killed over 30,000 around the world originated from a bat.

Anderson then raised the probability that somebody could have butchered an infected bat at an animal market in China’s Wuhan City, and then contaminated his mouth or nose with the bat’s blood or urine.

The Australian virologist succeeded in isolating the purest form of COVID-19 at a high-security laboratory in Singapore. Defensor urged the House committee on natural resources to look into the performance of the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Law.

“We have to build up compliance with the law through harsh enforcement,” Defensor said.

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of “zoonotic” viruses, meaning they are spread between animals and people.

They cause illness ranging from the common cold to more serious diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).

Previous investigations found that SARS-CoV was conveyed from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans.