3/11 will in the future need no indication of the year that we will remember the WHO’s declaration of pandemic spread of new human disease COVID-19. Like we do not need a further explanation what happened on 9/11 catastrophe. We know when the pandemic outbreak has started in 2020, but we do not know when it ends. Some important sources of information are useful to follow:
- The WHO portal and how the COVID-19 is our future
- Protective measures against the new coronavirus
- The EU Coronavirus response
- Coronavirus Watch (prompt news from 50,000 world media by country: 10 articles/sec)
The plant health community will be especially affected. We have worked several years to agree globally on necessary awareness-raising on plant health. Finally, the United Nations proclaimed 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health. Several hundred events have been planned all over the world to spread the word and increase awareness on the importance of protection of plant health against the new pests and diseases, which spread by commodities and traffic around the globe. Now all of them are endangered, as the main COVID-19 measures are isolation in a quarantine of people with suspected infection and ban of any gathering at events.
The global law on plant health, which we use in daily certification of plant goods in trade, is the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC). The IPPC Secretariat works in Rome at the Food and Agriculture Organisation. Italy has just turned out as the most severely affected country in the world by COVID-19.
The annual Commission on Phytosanitary Measures convention, which was usually organised in Rome last two decades, has been postponed from end March to end June 2020. But it seems unrealistic that the delegates of National Plant Protection Services and Agricultural Ministers from 184 countries will travel to Rome this year. To fly long-distance flights and seat five days in closed meeting rooms with air-conditioning?
Don’t risk it! A slogan of European Plant Protection Organisation to passengers, who hide the plants, seeds and fruits in their baggage, when they return from visits of exotic countries, is appropriate now for such kind of global events and long-distance flights. Not only this year. As long as scientists need to develop a vaccine and/or effective medicine for COVID-19, we may not risk global meetings in another way than on-line. We have got nice experience in South Korea in 2017 when the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures meeting was organised for the first time outside Rome. The interpreters did not travel to Seul, but they stayed in Rome and gave online interpretations to delegates seating in Seul. In 2020, everybody can seat in his own cabinet in his own country and discuss international plant health matters on-line. The EU and its Member States have only two speakers: the European Commission representative and the Presidency (Croatia in 2020). Similarly, the others are organised into regional groups and have Porte-parole officials. Not so many active speakers that on-line system would have any difficulties.
The lesson learnt from 9/11 is that violence begets violence and intolerance breeds intolerance. In 3/11 humanity is protecting vulnerable groups among us. Now the humankind has a common invisible enemy. “The Covid-19 pandemic is proving that prevention is always better than cure, and this applies to the health of humans, animals and plants,” is the key message of the IPPC Secretariat. Phytosanitary inspectors are on their duties also in these days of COVID-19 pandemic, as they assure passing through the state borders the inspected food and other goods of plant origin. Going to paperless business would help at imports, as paper phytosanitary certificates cannot be delivered by air postal services!
The plant health community can learn a lot from this pandemic contingency actions. Also the stakeholders and the general public will learn from official actions, composed mainly of restrictions and prohibitions for proper disease management. Maybe later any crisis management coordination in plant health and response in the safety of plants, plant food/feed and economy will be better understood.
Also plant health measures are standardised globally and the plant health community is developing contingency plans and early responses to new threats in plant health. The pandemic of COVID-19 shows us, how quickly can pathogens spread over the globe. It has been specific simulation exercise concerning the spread of invasive insects, fungi, bacteria or viruses, which affect plant health. These we have witnessed quite some in the last decades…