- Date: May 24, 2021
- Author: Alexander Nicolas
The pervasive COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the planet, impacting the lives of countless people. And, over the past year, just as innumerable lives were being changed in a myriad of ways as a result of this global health crisis, so too were perceptions of the virus that was causing it. In March 2020, WWF commissioned GlobeScan to conduct a survey among the general public in Hong Kong SAR, Japan, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam to better understand concerns around the pandemic and its root causes, as well as opinions on actions that could be taken to prevent future pandemics like COVID-19.
Also in 2020, WWF launched a campaign calling for urgent action from governments to address the root causes of pandemics, to ramp up enforcement efforts against risky wildlife trade, and to adopt a “One Health” approach to tackling high-risk wildlife trade and deforestation. This approach allows for a holistic view to decision making and action that links the health of people with animals and our shared environment, recognizing the interdependence among all of us.
More than a year after the emergence of COVID-19, WWF worked with GlobeScan to conduct a follow-up survey. Over 6,500 people were surveyed in the United States, China, Vietnam, Thailand, and Myanmar, with a representative sample of each country. The intention of this year’s study was to build on 2020’s findings to gain a deeper understanding of consumer insight and perceptions of zoonotic spillover risk. The survey was also constructed to assess how the effects of the pandemic have affected sentiments about and support for what individuals, companies, and governments need to do to prevent future pandemics. Given the zoonotic nature of the virus (i.e. originating in animals and spilling over, or jumping, to humans) and its point of origin, people’s perceptions of and behavior around the handling, trade, and purchase of wild and domestic animals as food and/or pets is also of particular interest to monitor.
The 2021 survey revealed that three-quarters of all respondents remain extremely or very worried about the current pandemic. A majority of the public surveyed remain deeply worried about future pandemics and strongly support government action that tackles the root causes, like high-risk wildlife trade and deforestation, in order to prevent similar outbreaks from reoccurring.
Overall Level Of Worry About the Coronavirus Outbreak
Base: Among those aware of COVID-1974% Extremely or very worried about the outbreak Vietnam: 87% (88% in 2020), Myanmar (79% in 2020): 81%, Thailand: 73% (86% in 2020), China: 68%, and US: 63%.
In the US, those Americans who perceive environmental issues to be the cause of pandemics believe that the private sector also plays a part in preventing future pandemics: 70% say that sustainable use of resources by companies is the most important issue to address, followed by deforestation (68%). 67% of those surveyed are much more or slightly more likely to buy from companies taking action to prevent pandemics, and 69% would support new laws to ensure that products sold in the U.S. do not contribute to global deforestation.
Science has shown us that high-risk wildlife trade is the most likely pathway through which COVID-19 was able to spread from animals to humans, and people continue to associate the pandemic with risky interactions between humans and wild animals. In fact, disease transfer from animals to humans is perceived as the number one risk to trigger future pandemics. However, US respondents had the lowest understanding of the linkage between wildlife and COVID-19 among the five countries surveyed.
That said, a good number of US respondents, 65%, support taking a “One Health” approach to dealing with pandemics, along with two thirds saying they would support government efforts to close all high-risk markets selling wild animals and efforts that protect forests by ending deforestation. And, while most Americans surveyed agree that international action from governments and companies is needed to shut down high-risk wildlife markets and prevent deforestation (72% believe closing high-risk wildlife markets selling animals from the wild is very or somewhat effective to prevent future pandemics), this new study revealed that US perceptions of what causes pandemics and what is at the root of stopping future ones varies greatly from other impacted countries.
Call For US Government Action
believe closure of high-risk wildlife markets where they sell animals coming from the wild is Very or Somewhat Effective to prevent similar pandemic diseases from happening in the future
are Very Likely or Likely to Support the efforts by governments and health ministries to close all high-risk markets selling animals coming from the wild
Strongly Support or Support increased efforts to preserve forests and end deforestation in their country or overseas specifically to preven future pandemics
Strongly Support or Support "One Health" approach to dealing with pandemics
Nevertheless, this recent survey has validated the fact that there is strong public support across key nations for advocacy efforts that call on governments and decision-makers to take a One Health approach, ensuring that interventions intended to prevent future pandemics address root causes.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that systemic changes are needed to fix our broken relationship with nature - and to address the environmental drivers of zoonotic disease. This starts with preventing pandemics at their source by protecting our forests and keeping them intact and by changing the way we interact with wild and domestic animals. Stopping these key drivers of zoonotic disease spillover--deforestation and high-risk wildlife trade--must be part of our global pandemic prevention strategy and integrated into global and national economic recovery strategies to address COVID-19. By focusing attention on these issues, we can help wildlife populations recover, maintain local and global biodiversity that naturally help regulate disease, as well as help ensure sustainable use of natural resources. Such significant and permanent change to ecosystem protection will play a large role in eliminating pandemics in the years to come.