The Australian virologist Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet declared in 1962 that one of the most important social revolutions in history was the “virtual elimination” of infectious diseases. Burnet won the Nobel prize for medicine; he was a brilliant man. But he was wrong.

Covid-19 is probably the third coronavirus to have jumped from bats to humans since 2002. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome killed at least 774 people after emerging in China’s Guangdong province, most likely originating in horseshoe bats before spreading to humans via civet cats. In 2012, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, first identified in Saudi Arabia, spread to humans from bats via camels...

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