Coronavirus: Prince Charles says we're paying the price for loss of biodiversity

3 June 2020, 20:07 | Updated: 4 June 2020, 07:05

The Prince of Wales fears we could see further pandemics if we don't put our relationship with the planet at the centre of the post-COVID recovery.

In an exclusive interview via video call from Scotland, Prince Charles said he sympathised with the "bewilderment and anxiety" felt by many in the UK as a result of the COVID-19 crisis but also shared his fears that we could see more global pandemics if we don't tackle climate change and the loss of biodiversity.

He also spoke about his own experience of contracting the virus saying he believes he was "lucky" and "got away with it quite lightly" but it has motivated him to "find a way out of this".

The prince was speaking as part of the series After The Pandemic: Our New World being aired this week.

Due to the current social distancing restrictions the interview was carried out via video call, with the prince dialling in from Birkhall, his home in Scotland, where he's been living with the Duchess of Cornwall since lockdown began.

Despite a couple of computer glitches, and the odd frozen screen, which we've all experienced as more of us work from home, the prince passionately talked about his genuine concern that we could see further pandemics if we don't stop neglecting the planet.

He said: "The more we erode the natural world, the more we destroy what's called biodiversity, which is the immense diversity of life, plant life, tree life, everything else. Marine life. The more we expose ourselves to this kind of danger. We've had these other disasters with SARS and Ebola and goodness knows what else, all of these things are related to the loss of biodiversity."

He added: "It's one of the reasons that I tried to get the point across that we should have been treating the planet as if it was a patient long ago.

"So no self-respecting doctor would ever have let the situation, if the planet is a patient, reach this stage before making an intervention.

"I think we're slightly paying the price as a result."

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Usually, talking to members of the royal family about their health is deemed to be off limits, but the prince spoke openly about contracting the virus and admitted it has motivated him even further to push on with his environmental agenda.

"It makes me even more determined to push and shout and prod if you see what I mean. Whatever I can do behind the scenes sometimes. I suppose it did partly, I mean I was lucky in my case and got away with it quite lightly.

"But I've had it, and I can so understand what other people have gone through. And I feel particularly for those for instance, who have lost their loved ones and have been unable to be with them at the time. That to me is the most ghastly thing.

"But in order to prevent this happening to so many more people, this is why I'm so determined to find a way out of this. In order to bring the world and all of us back to the centre, back to understanding what we have to do in relationship to the natural world."

The call had started off just like any other online meeting we've all had to get used to recently. A bit of "can you hear me ok?" and "can you see me alright?" as both of us acknowledged how strange it was to be speaking to each other in that way.

It soon became clear that even the future king has had to adjust to working in new ways and seems to be enjoying the challenge of doing things differently.

But this wasn't a casual chat, it was his most wide ranging interview about the post-COVID world - a rare chance to get his views on the pandemic and significantly his thoughts on what should be our priorities as the world aims to recover.

The prince believes that a "green recovery" should be at the centre of global efforts to rebuild economies and could be integral for getting people back to work in the post-pandemic world.

In January he launched the Sustainable Markets Council at the World Economic Forum in Davos, an initiative aimed at showing that economic growth and protecting the environment can go hand-in-hand.

This week he launched a new phase of the initiative under the banner of The Great Reset. He told Sky News he's been talking to world leaders during lockdown about the challenges they face and the benefits of putting sustainability at the centre of any recovery.

He said: "I haven't exactly been wasting my time during this lockdown if you know what I mean. I've been in connection with a lot of people during this pandemic, so I have been able to do a lot, using this technology.

"I have been in communication with a lot of people around the world on the issues. For instance, I've been speaking to leaders in the Caribbean which is chiefly commonwealth countries and they are facing immense challenges.

"I was talking to the prime minister of St Lucia recently because he wanted to talk about the horrors facing the islands where the tourism sector has disintegrated completely, they're under the most appalling economic pressure.

"They've also got the risks and dangers of every year of hurricanes."

But he expressed some frustration that it has taken a global pandemic to make some wake up to the threats.

He said: "It's only catastrophes which concentrate the mind, which means, that for once, there might be some real real impetus to tackle all these things that have been pushed to one side because everyone said, 'oh it's irrelevant'.

"For instance, you could never get the G20 to concentrate very much on agriculture, forestry or fishery because it wasn't considered very sexy. But these are crucial things."

During the pandemic the royal family have had to adjust the way that they work. Usually at times of national crisis they would be meeting those on the front line, carrying out engagements to show sympathy.

Instead they have sent virtual messages of encouragement and support, with the Queen rallying the country with unprecedented messages to the nation, reassuring us that life will get better.

There is a contrast between the style of monarch and heir, and that is again apparent in this interview, as Prince Charles laid out what he believes is the best environmental and economic strategy for a post-COVID recovery.

He does however acknowledge that this has been a human tragedy as well as an economic one, and like his mother was keen to praise the "remarkable" way that people have supported each other.

He said: "I can't tell you how much I sympathise with the way that everyone has had to endure with this unbelievably testing and challenging time.

"I know that so many people have had the agony of losing their loved ones and the bewilderment and anxiety that surrounds everything and so it is the most awful aspect of a pandemic like this, and yet we've seen at the same time people being quite remarkable and wonderful people in the national health service and all the other key workers who kept everything going.

"And that is the remarkable thing about all this it always produces the best of everybody in so many ways, and that I think is something which is so special about the reaction. But at the same time we have to make sure we try to do better in the future."

This week, Dermot Murnaghan is hosting After the Pandemic: Our New World - a series of special live programmes about what our world will be like once the pandemic is over.

We are being joined by some of the biggest names from the worlds of culture, politics, economics, science and technology.

You can watch the exclusive interview with the Prince Charles in full at 8pm on Thursday.