Key messages from the IPPC Secretariat on plant health and Covid-19

Posted on Thu, 19 Mar 2020, 16:37

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The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) is an inter-governmental treaty signed by 184 countries, aiming at protecting the world's plant resources from the spread and introduction of pests, and promoting safe trade. The Convention introduced International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPMs) as its main tool to achieve its goals, making it the sole global standard setting organization for plant health. The IPPC Secretariat has developed a series of key IPPC-relevant messages and answers addressing the recent Covid-19 outbreak and lessons that can be learned from it for the global phytosanitary community. The purpose of this message is to provide IPPC-relevant information concerning the COVID-19 contagion.

1. Prevention is always better than cure!

It is an unfortunate coincidence that during the International Year of Plant Health (IYPH) in 2020, the Covid-19 global outbreak is showing the world how adopting preventive measures is essential to secure countries from the introduction and spread of devastating human diseases. The Covid-19 pandemic is proving that prevention is always better than cure, and this applies to the health of humans, animals and plants.

"The best science tells us, if countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilize their people in the response, we can go a long way to mitigating transmission", said the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). Science-based preventive actions, including quarantine measures to contain invasive virus threats are indispensable to protect the health of people, animals and plants alike.

2. International travel and trade: viruses do not bring passports to cross borders, but plants and other regulated goods require phytosanitary certificates

Viruses and diseases do not take passports when moving from one country to another but are most often spread unintentionally by people and goods moving in trade. Promoting conscious and prudent behaviours among members of the public is essential to reach a common global goal and secure health at different levels. People moving around the globe may be an unintentional vehicle of infection, carrying viruses and plant diseases. With globalization and the resulting increase in international travel and trade, plant pests of different kinds are more likely to be moved across borders with consignments and travellers and spread these pests at alarming rates. The current Covid-19 outbreak is showing us that the world must be extra careful with travel of people and be ready to tackle any emergency. In the area of plant health we must also facilitate the safe trade of plants, plant products and other items, such as sea containers that can allow pests to be spread. Detection or quarantine are indispensable security measures to contain an epidemic - be it a human, animal or plant health emergency.

3. What are the risks for inspectors inspecting consignments to certify exports or verify import requirements are met?

Inspectors of consignments at the border may be exposed to sanitary risks. For health and safety concerns regarding consignments, please refer to the WHO guidelines on how to protect human health during the Covid-19 outbreak:

The IPPC Secretariat also suggests making use of the IPPC electronic certification (ePhyto) wherever possible. NPPOs and inspection staff may refer to the following sources:

4. What happens if a phytosanitary certificate for a consignment is delayed?

During these unprecedented times, many delays are occurring due to forces beyond the control of NPPOs and industry. Where possible, the IPPC Secretariat encourages countries to be as flexible as possible. Due to the numerous cancellations of flights and subsequent port delays caused by the coronavirus, some IPPC members are experiencing a situation in which the phytosanitary certificate (PC) for a consignment does not arrive in time for the inspection or in accordance with their internal time limits between inspection and issuance or inspection and export. Some countries are encouraging their trading partners to physically send their Phytosanitary Certificates with the consignments to avoid delays.

The IPPC Secretariat would also encourage making use of any activity that can ensure a consignment can be processed in a timely manner during this situation. Additionally, the IPPC Secretariat encourages those countries using the IPPC ePhyto Solution to make maximum use of this tool for purposes such as this, especially for countries that have the ability to receive PCs electronically and already have the infrastructure in place to go paperless. Countries are encouraged to notify the IPPC of their status in this regard and via the collaboration tool available on the ePhyto Hub. For those countries that have not yet begun using the system, we would suggest that you investigate the implementation and use of the Generic ePhyto National System as a possible means of ensuring the delivery of consignments in an efficient and timely manner.

5. Protecting plant health is essential for food security, particularly in emergency situations

Plants are a primary source of income for nearly half of the global population and make up 80% of the food we eat. The current Covid-19 outbreak experience highlights the need to ensure that plants are protected from the ravages of plant pests. The trade of plants and plant products creates wealth and supports economic development in many countries of the world. However, one of the potential consequences of this global emergency is the possibility of disrupted trade, which could in turn compromise access to a safe and stable supply of food. This is why taking steps to ensure a safe supply of fresh food and protecting plants from pests is now more important than ever. While Covid-19 is affecting human health worldwide, plant pests and diseases continue to pose a threat to food production. It is particularly important at this time to not let down our guard and always remember that a threat to plant health is a threat to the health and prosperity of people, especially the most vulnerable. In this critical situation, we are all vulnerable and protecting plant health becomes vital for our own wellbeing. This is the noble goal for which the IPPC was created, as expressed by the IYPH slogan: “protecting plants, protecting life”.

6. Pest outbreaks and economic losses: “Pay a little now or pay a lot more later”

Don’t wait - act now to prevent pest outbreaks! A global economic slowdown is one of the results of this pandemic. In general, prevention costs less than treating and eradicating an outbreak. This is true for both human and plant health. “Acting now to avert a crisis is a more humane, effective and cost-effective approach than responding to the aftermath of disaster”, UN authorities have stressed. If infections / infestations and outbreaks affecting both human and plant health are not detected and controlled in time, the eradication of a disease can take several years and cost millions of dollars, if it can be contained at all. What is now happening with Covid-19 at the public health level is similar to what is going on in African countries tackling the Desert Locust plague. According to FAO, the cost of responding to the impact of locusts on food security alone will be at least 15 times higher than the cost of preventing the spread of this insect.

7. Health is a global issue: the crucial role of the international community

Global coordination is essential to tackle the Covid-19. It is time for the international community to act more decisively in a coordinated manner. When a virus like the Coronavirus has an outbreak in one country or a few distant territories, the international community must take notice and develop a rapid and coordinated response. Adopting divergent measures could be even more catastrophic for countries living in an emergency. Prevention, Preparedness, Public health, Political leadership and People are the top 5 P-words the WHO DG called the world to focus on when considering this Covid-19 pandemic.

The plant health community can learn a lot from this and that is why it is important for countries to follow the IPPC International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures when setting their national phytosanitary measures, thus harmonizing measures at a global level. Sharing knowledge and best practices is essential to face global crises and combat common enemies. We strongly encourage you to take technically justified measures to protect Plant Health as another warning from the current emergency.

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