COVID-19 and the ecology of disease

Viruses are intelligent. These co-passengers are seasoned travellers, having hitched rides for billions of years. But we take them for granted. This underestimation has led to a proliferation of zoonotic diseases (i.e. diseases that spread from animals to humans) over the last 30-odd years.

At the time of writing this, there are 207,615 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, also called COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2, worldwide. Of these, 156 are in India. But these numbers will be dispatches from the past by the time this sentence ends. COVID-19 has disrupted the world as we know it. Man is no longer a social animal. Supply chains are crumbling, industries collapsing, elections are being postponed, sporting events called off and jobs guillotined.

The debate about the zoonotic source of COVID-19 is ongoing, but chances are that it came from a reservoir of bats or pangolins. The frequency of zoonotic outbreaks and their proliferation⁠—whether malaria, Japanese encephalitis, Ebola, SARS, etc.⁠—are concurrent with increased habitat loss, ecosystem imbalance and poor urban planning. All compounded by faster spillover in a globalized world. …

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