Coronavirus U-turn: Killer virus could have started in South Africa – not China

Coronavirus has brought the world to its knees as the deadly pandemic has continued to spread and forced nations to frantically research a vaccine that could kill it in its tracks. As of Sunday, 4.1million people have tested positive for COVID-19, of which nearly 283,000 have died. Lockdown measures and their eventual release continue to be discussed by world leaders, including here in the UK where a multiphased plan to slowly loosen restrictions, has been announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Scientists are yet to confirm the exact origin and cause of coronavirus, but it is most likely believed to be a zoonotic transmission. This is where animal viruses are able to make the jump to humans through close contact, consumption and other methods. It is feared as mankind continues to encroach on nature and the land where wildlife lives more of these transmissions are likely to occur in the future. 

However, with coronavirus today, many believe that bats or pangolins – the world’s most trafficked animal – have been in the chain that led to humans contracting COVID-19.

Audrey Delsink, the wildlife director of the African branch of Humane Society International (HSI), claimed that lessons need to be learned and named South Africa as a possible location of where the outbreak’s chain could have begun.

She told Express.co.uk: “People are so concerned that they are the host species and it’s not inconceivable to consider that it was a pangolin from South Africa that was in the mix there and was the intermediate host.

“The fact of the matter is that we have bats and pangolin here. Bats, especially, host a number of diseases, so in South Africa we have all those species.”

In South Africa, a controversial new amendment to legislation is being discussed that will allow all animals to be consumed by humans – including giraffes, elephants, rhinoceroses, cheetahs and countless others. 

Ms Delsink raised concern over the government’s lack of consideration about the risks from zoonotic transmissions considering the current coronavirus pandemic and also previous outbreaks of the past. 

Even currently, where laws allow for lions to be slaughtered for their bones to be exported, there is a known risk that the animal carries a form of tuberculosis that could be transmitted to humans. 

She continued: “At what point do we say that human health trumps economics? If we haven’t learned any lessons from where we are right now, in a pandemic costing the world trillions in trying to recover, I don’t know what it will take.

“This pandemic is not first of its kind, we’ve seen SARS, MERS and this now – we need to start questioning how and what we do with animals, because this has brought us to our knees.

“It’s just worrying that we seem to be going ahead, well in South Africa, with the same policies and rationale that China has. 

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“It’s very concerning, I have seen some comments from some people in the game farming industry and it’s quite shocking – there is a level of understanding, willingness to understand or to delve deeper into the disease.

“For them, the links to wildlife are not there, as some people in the industry are saying, ‘We are alright, as long as you don’t eat a bat you will be ok, no risk of transmission and we don’t import these animals into South Africa, so our industry is fine.’”

Ms Delsink raised the much held belief that pangolins may have been the intermediate host that contributed to the outbreak – but hoped the public will not turn against the animal because it is a victim that is unwillingly brought into the criminal trade.  

In South Africa, pangolins are among many animals being illegally trafficked across to different parts of the world including South East Asia

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Ms Delsink explained that the images of “animals stacked on top of one another” in wet markets in China are not too dissimilar from what happens in some abattoirs and farms in South Africa.

She added: “Look at some of the lion breeding farms in South Africa, they have other big cats and other animals that are there.

“Recently released images showed one where 50 lions had been slaughtered – there was a mix of faeces, blood and all sorts of things there.

“It’s not hard to imagine how this could happen in our country, you know, that’s what concerns me, that some people are naive enough to think it could never happen here.”

Since the first cases of coronavirus were reported by China, many have pointed the finger at the nation and some even tried to sue them for damages. 

This blame game is not dissimilar from a pandemic of the past, which killed around one-third of the world’s population – an estimated 50 million people.

This similar occurrence happened during the Spanish Flu, which took hold towards the end of World War 1 and is now considered among humanity’s worst outbreaks. 

It took its name from the country where the first cases were reported – Spain – which was a nation that remained neutral and abstained from the clash between Allied Forces and Central Powers.

Scientists have since theorised that the deadly outbreak could have actually begun in Britain, China or France but it is believed the nations kept it a secret.

It is claimed this cover-up was due to the fear that a disclosure of a deadly outbreak could influence wartime morale and even alter the course of history, if one side thought the other was on the back-foot.

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