Coronavirus is starting to grip the UK, leading Chancellor Rishi Sunak to promise to put aside £30billion in his budget to stimulate the economy during the outbreak. The illness – which was declared a pandemic yesterday by the World Health Organisation – has caused the Republic of Ireland to go on lockdown and US President Donald Trump to stop flights entering the US from mainland Europe. There are more than 100,000 cases of the illness worldwide.
Climate activist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough also said today that he was concerned coronavirus might affect the fight against climate change.
However, reports are emerging that coronavirus might have been exacerbated by climate change itself.
Scientific American explained in a report from earlier this week: “Some experts believe climate change, along with other environmental disturbances, could help facilitate the rise of more brand-new diseases, like COVID-19.”
Director for Diseases at the University of California, Christine Johnson, told the publication that due to climate change, “I think we can say that things are going to change, and that we expect the risk to increase”.
Yet, she added: “But we can’t say with any certainty which diseases, in which locations and at which time.”
A 2010 report from the US National Library of Medicine explained that climate change could have increased the disease transmission from animals to humans – and the current coronavirus is believed to have come from the bats.
The report cites “geographic distribution, population density” as two sources of disease transmission.
Changing weather patterns force animals to look further afield for new habitats, according to the report published on Environmental Health Perspectives back in 2010.
As they adjust to these new climates, the animals have weakened immune systems when facing new disease which they have not yet developed resistance to.
Climate change also means the animals have to venture into areas where they have greater contact with humans. This subsequently makes the likelihood of disease transmission much higher.
More recently, Friends of the Earth representative Wendell Chan recognised how modern society could affect human health as well.
Writing in South China Morning Post in February, she explained: “So long as people live close together and global travel is easy, disease outbreaks are unavoidable.
“The emergence and re-emergence of infectious disease, is however, just one of the many health risks that climate change will bring about.
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“Climate change is predicted to cause 250,000 more deaths per year from infectious diseases, non-communicate diseases like heat stress, waterborne diseases like cholera and many more.”
She also pointed out: “In 2007, the World Health Organisation warned that emerging infectious diseases are becoming a growing threat in the face of increasing urbanisation, antimicrobial resistance and climate change.”
However, she added that at the moment, the “relationship between the new coronavirus and climate change is tenuous at best”, but “a warming climate will exacerbate the emergence of other novel infectious diseases in the future”.
This is due to the shortening of winter seasons that inevitably comes with rising global temperatures.
Friends of the Earth’s co-executive director Miriam Turner also told The Guardian this week: “It’s strange when people see the climate crisis as being in the future, compared to the coronavirus, which we are facing now.
“It might be something that feels far away when sitting in an office in central London, but the emergency footing of the climate crisis is being felt by hundreds of millions already.”
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