Coronavirus alert: Encroachment onto Amazon rainforest could trigger next big pandemic

An expert has warned the accelerating invasion into the Amazon could unleash another pandemic comparable to the coronavirus crisis. Brazilian ecologist Dr David Lapola believes the Amazon rainforest represents a potential hotspot for infection, due to increasing contact with exotic animals’ habitats.

Zoonotic diseases are defined as those capable of passing between animals and humans.

When you create ecological disequilibrium … that’s when a virus can jump from animals to humans

Dr David Lapola

And Dr Lapola thinks the continued urbanisation of once-wild areas could spark a new outbreak not dissimilar to coronavirus.

The dire warning coincides with news deforestation in the Amazon grew by an incredible 85 percent in 2019.

This means more than 3,900 square miles (10,100 square km) of the rainforest was razed to the ground by loggers and miners last year alone.

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Coronavirus has slowed human activity around the world except for the continued clearance of the Amazon rainforest.

The Amazon rainforest is mainly located in Brazil, which is also the epicentre of the Latin American COVID-19 pandemic.

South America’s largest country has already logged more than 10,000 deaths relating to coronavirus.

CNN has reported the Brazilian government has sent more than 3,000 soldiers to the Amazon in a desperate attempt to stop the illegal activities in the Amazon.

Dr Lapola believes this spells disaster for human health as well as the planet’s prognosis.

He said: “When you create ecological disequilibrium… that’s when a virus can jump from animals to humans.”

The University of Campinas researcher added similar patterns have been observed in the spread of HIV, Ebola and the mosquito-borne disease dengue fever.

The Amazon is of particular interest because of its unparalleled biodiversity.

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Dr Lapola believes this could make the Amazon “the world’s biggest coronavirus pool”.

He added: “That’s one more reason not to use the Amazon irrationally, like we’re doing now.”

It is also one more reason to be alarmed by the surge in deforestation by illegal farmers, miners and loggers.

Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who took office last year, has been described as a climate change sceptic.

The controversial politician is working to allow mining and farming to continue encroaching into the rainforest but has deployed the army into the area to fight deforestation.

However, Dr Lapola has voiced a preference for the government to reinforce the environmental agency IBAMA.

The agency has faced significant staffing and budget cuts under Mr Bolsonaro.

The ecologist said: “I hope under the next administration we’ll pay more attention to protecting what may be the planet’s greatest biological treasure.

“We need to reinvent the relationship between our society and the rainforest.

“Otherwise, the world faces more outbreaks – ‘a very complex process that is difficult to predict. We’d better just play it safe.”

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