The coronavirus pandemic took the world buy surprise – but there may be bigger shocks in store according to an environmental expert.
According to writer John Vidal, "if we fail to appreciate the seriousness of the situation, this present pandemic may be only a precursor to something far graver still".
He believes that diseases "as contagious as measles, as deadly as Ebola" could make the leap from animals to humans creating a pandemic "on the scale of the Black Death”.
These zoonotic diseases could number in the thousands, he says, and the destruction of animals' natural habitats is creating more opportunities for them to jump from wild animals into farm livestock and potentially then onto humans.
Writing in the Daily Mail, Vidal urges governments to acknowledge the threat of a pandemic as virulent as the Black Death, which killed up to a third of the people in Europe.
Vidal spoke to a wide range of experts on the threat of zoonotic diseases.
Delia Grace Randolph, co-leader of animal and human health at the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, told him: "I think we will get a wave of new zoonotic diseases emerging, a mixture of old and new ones.”
Because of the sheer speed at which air travel moves people – and the diseases they are carrying – around the world, a new virus could kill tens of millions before it was even recognised.
Ecologists at University College London (UCL) have identified 335 new and potentially fatal diseases have emerged globally since 1945, he says.
More than 200 of these are zoonoses, viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi and prions.
The microbes, which are commonplace in wild and some domesticated animals, are now finding new hosts among humans, according to Vidal.
He says other deadly viruses which have jumped across the species barrier include "HIV, Ebola, Lassa Fever, Marburg and Simian foamy virus in Africa; Sars and Covid-19 in China; Chagas, Machupo and Hantavirus in Latin America; Hendra in Australia, and Mers in Saudi Arabia".
He asks: "When will we really wake up to the greatest new threat of our age?
"Mankind has changed its relationship with both wild and farmed animals, destroying their habitats and crowding them together – and the process is only accelerating.
"The nightmare scenario that governments are having to face up to.” Vidal warns, “is the emergence of a new disease — or a new strain of an older one — which is as contagious as, say, measles, and as deadly as Ebola.
"Then humanity could face a far worse pandemic than Covid-19, possibly on the scale of the Black Death."
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