Open letter to Viet Nam Prime Minister regarding COVID-19 and illegal wildlife trade
Posted on 18 February 2020
Regarding the COVID-19 outbreak, WWF, together with 9 other Vietnamese and international organisations working in nature conservation have sent an Open Letter to Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to propose that Viet Nam should identify and close all markets and other location where illegal wildlife is on sale to to ensure national safety, economic security and the health of the public and Vietnam’s precious ecosystems.On Feb 16, regarding the COVID-19 outbreak, WWF, together with 9 other Vietnamese and international organisations working in nature conservation (PanNature, GreenViet, WCS Vietnam, FFI Vietnam, Education for Nature – Vietnam, Save Vietnam Wildlife, Wildlife at Risk, TRAFFIC Vietnam and Animals Asia Foundation) have sent an Open Letter to Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to propose that Viet Nam should identify and close all markets and other location where illegal wildlife is on sale to to ensure national safety, economic security and the health of the public and Vietnam’s precious ecosystems.
Details of the letter is as following:
His Excellency Nguyen Xuan Phuc,
Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
We, the representatives of Vietnamese and international non-profit organizations working in nature and wildlife conservation, would like to bring to your attention one significant issue that we believe has the utmost importance in relation to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and reducing threats from further outbreaks.
As you are aware, the COVID-19 outbreak, has caused considerable concern to Vietnamese citizens in regards to their health and considerable costs to the Vietnamese economy and public health to control this emerging threat. As with the outbreak of SARS in 2002, which claimed 5 Vietnamese lives, this novel coronavirus is thought to have been transmitted to humans from wildlife as a result of close contact in a seafood market in Wuhan, China where illegal wildlife also was being sold. Peer-reviewed scientific publications have now demonstrated that the virus came originally from bats and has been passed via an intermediate wildlife host to humans. The species that acted as an intermediate host has not yet been identified for certain, although one research group in China has suggested it may be pangolins. Irrespective, it appears clear that transmission has occurred via close contact between humans and wildlife as part of ongoing illegal wildlife trade.
Looking back at recent history, several pandemics in the last twenty years showed clear links with virus reservoirs in wildlife populations. The SARS outbreak in 2002, which infected more than 8,000 people and resulted in 774 deaths in 37 countries, came from a novel betacoronavirus sourced from bats through masked palm civets as the intermediate host before reaching humans. The Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak in 2012, which infected 2,494 and cost 858 human lives, also came from another coronavirus passing though dromedary camels to humans (The Lancet, 2020). The very recent bout of African Swine Fever (ASF) sweeping through China, Vietnam and nine other countries, has caused severe economic losses and is attributed to wild African suids (FAO, 2020). By the end of 2019, all 63 provinces in Vietnam were affected by ASF with over five million pigs euthanized.
The ongoing COVID-19 outbreak will also certainly cause significant damage to Vietnam. An initial assessment by the Ministry of Investment and Planning showed that Vietnam’s GDP target will be 0.53% lower than expected if the outbreak is controlled within the first quarter of 2020 or 0.71% lower if the outbreak is controlled in the second quarter (MPI, 2020). So far, the airline sector of Vietnam has been hard hit with about 10,000 billion Vietnam Dong lost due to flight cancelations during the outbreak (CAAV, 2020).
The lesson from SARS and now COVID-19 are clear: new viruses will continue to move from wildlife to people while illegal wildlife trade and wildlife consumption continue. Research conducted in Vietnam and beyond has demonstrated that corona viruses exist in wildlife populations and the illegal wildlife trade provides opportunities for these viruses to jump from wildlife to people. Despite efforts to reform wildlife protection policy and increase enforcement, illegal wildlife trade and consumption in Vietnam is still problematic. In addition, in recent years, there are growing flows of illegal wildlife products from international markets going to and through Vietnam.
Limiting interaction between wildlife and humans through strong enforcement against illegal wildlife trade and wildlife markets is the most effective approach to mitigating future risk associated with transmission of disease between animals and humans. As the source of this particular outbreak, China has already made some major steps to mitigate future risk in relation to zoonotic disease outbreaks from contact between wildlife and humans by temporarily closing all wildlife markets. This is in recognition of the serious threat faced.
In order to ensure national safety, economic security and the health of the public and Vietnam’s precious ecosystems, we request the Vietnamese government to take strong and sustainable actions to halt all illegal wildlife trade and consumption in Vietnam. This will require action to:
- Identify restaurants illegally selling wild meat and enforce bans;
- Have compulsory requirements for all e-commerce platforms, social media, and online newspapers to sensor and remove all transactions and advertising of illegal wildlife products;
- Develop more stringent regulations to address risks relating to raising wildlife in captivity for trade and consumption;
- Reform judicial procedures to ensure effective punishment of wildlife crimes to act as a significant disincentive;
- Intensify awareness raising activities to inform the Vietnamese people of the risks of wildlife consumption to public security and to individual health; and
- Ensure cross ministerial collaboration to enact the above points.
In addition to the public safety and economic rationale for such controls, these actions will help demonstrate Vietnam is a regional leader on the issue of combating illegal wildlife trade and biodiversity conservation.