With this very tiny object not visible to the naked eye, nature has once again given the global community a rude awakening. In this, nature was also kind enough to make this visitation call firstly on China, perhaps the only nation on Earth with the capacity, the regimental discipline, and the science to confront this deadly visitor. In the process, China has shown the rest of the world how little we are as a human race.
Nature has given us rivers, seas, the oceans with their marine life. Nature also gave us the land and the forests with their inhabitants known as plants, animals, and homo sapiens. But the human race, which makes up only 0.01% of all creatures on Planet Earth, is responsible for 83% of the destruction Earth has suffered. The destruction of the environment has been taking place through unsustainable farming practices, overgrazing, desertification, and global warming. The signs and warnings have been there for many years, through heavy floods and mudslides, hurricanes and tornadoes, bush fires, deforestation and exploitation of land resources without replenishing the disturbed environment.
It is so easy to disturb, dislodge, and alter the living habitats of all flora, fauna, and micro-organisms during these processes that all kinds of plagues, with time, will begin to manifest. My friend, a physician, Dr. Dike Okwelum, writes that the coronavirus is a large family of single stranded RNA viruses that could be isolated in different animal species, which is why this family of viruses is important in both veterinary and medical practice. They cause illnesses ranging from common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-Cov) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-Cov).
The novel coronavirus, a relation of SARS and MERS, was identified as causative agent of an unprecedented outbreak of unexplained lower respiratory tract infection in Wuhan City of China in December 2019 and has since then become a pandemic causing a wide range of illnesses across the globe. This condition was subsequently termed COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 19) by the World Health Organization (WHO). Despite vigorous global efforts, the incidence of COVID-19 as at March 23, 2020, is 371,731 laboratory confirmed cases with 15,374 deaths globally.
A tiny virus that seems capable of wiping out a significant population of the world, if not contained, has now disrupted the world economy. Perhaps if it does not kill one by infestation, it renders one poverty-stricken by taking away one’s livelihood. We are being told that the virus came from animals to humans, and now transmission is human to human. What we have not been told is which animal was the primary conveyor of the pathogen; this is of interest to us in Nigeria, given our love for bush meat, for a lot of our citizens may be carriers already. Such knowledge will help one avoid the animal carriers long before a vaccine or cure could be found.
There is a lot we do not understand about the ecosystems of our real estate in this world. The fauna and flora of the different ecological entities like the rain forest, the wetlands, the forests, the savannah, the Sahel and all water bodies are all different but have linkages that enhance and sustain a healthy Earth. When any of these linkages gets broken through the degradation I explained above, the consequences to life generally, is unknown and unpredictable. We only struggle to understand them after the fact. Ecologists believe that if all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate to the rich state of equilibrium that existed 10,000 years ago. But if insects were to vanish completely, the environment would collapse into chaos.
Therefore, we need to tread gingerly in our physical relationship with our environment, learn how to respect what nature has bestowed on us. We need not conquer every frontier. Not all are vital to our survival as a superior species. Borrowing a bit from my recent book, “How Little We Are”, I dare say that “the ability to see the social, political, and economic value of caring for our environment appears to boil down to a question of intellectual humility. As the generations coming after us look forward to living a better quality of life on Earth, this lack of intellectual humility will harm us in ways we cannot begin to fathom, as many remain blind to the full implication of the issues we now face with climate change. We think we know it all, yet we know not, and thus treat the warning signs and voices of wisdom about our environment with nonchalance.”
There are so many things we do not know about the coronavirus. Some countries are already treating the invasion as war and I do not blame them. The leadership of many countries has come out almost every day to address the people as it is done during war but what makes this war different is because of so many unanswered questions about the virus, the origin, the treatment and the likely vaccine, which may take more than a year to deploy in order blunt the lethality of the virus. For we Nigerians, please, do not be fooled into believing that our normally high temperatures will fight back the virus because there is yet no proof of that. At this stage, leadership is very important. Therefore, our leaders in both houses of the National Assembly, the Presidency, and the scientific institutions must come on board with the right arms to fight this war.