Perceptions of COVID-19 origins and China's wildlife policy reforms

Zhu, Annah Lake; Chen, Ruishan; Rizzolo, Jessica; Qian, Jin


Given the link between perceptions of zoonotic risk and support for regulations such as wildlife consumption bans, debates regarding the origins of COVID-19 are likely to have conservation implications. Specifically, alternative hypotheses that cast doubt on COVID-19's zoonotic origins could potentially lessen momentum for China's wildlife policy reforms and their associated conservation impacts. To better understand the impact of COVID-19 origin debates on China's wildlife policies, we conducted a 974-respondent survey across mainland China, supplemented by policy and media reviews. We examined perceptions of three facets of COVID-19 origins: geographic location, source (e.g., wildlife farm, wet market, etc.), and specific wildlife species as transmitters. Our findings reveal that 64.6 % of respondents believed COVID-19 originated in the United States or Europe, not in China. Further, compared to the baseline group of respondents who selected China as the origin country, respondents who selected the United States or Europe as the origin had a greater likelihood of selecting laboratories/research and imported frozen foods as likely sources, while these respondents had a lower likelihood of selecting wild animals in a wet market or natural causes as likely sources. Despite such varied beliefs regarding COVID-19 origins, support for wildlife policy reforms was strong: 89.5 % of respondents who previously consumed wildlife self-indicated reduced consumption after the pandemic and 70.5 % of respondents supported banning the trade of all wildlife species. Moreover, those respondents who selected wild animals in a wet market as a likely source of COVID-19 had a greater likelihood of supporting a trade ban on all wild-caught wildlife and all farmed wildlife. Our results indicate that, although investigation of COVID-19's origins is on-going and politicized, there is clear support for wildlife reforms in China that can promote conservation outcomes.