This special issue of PARKS is devoted to the impact and implications of COVID-19 on the world’s protected and conserved areas. It features 11 peer reviewed papers and 14 essays that have brought together the knowledge and findings of numerous experts from all parts of the world, supported by several wide-ranging surveys. The resulting global synthesis of experience answers some key questions: why did the pandemic occur? what has it meant for protected and conserved areas, and the people that depend on them? what were the underlying reasons for the disaster we now face? and how can we avoid this happening again? We applaud the international effort to combat the disease but suggest that humanity urgently needs to devote as much effort to addressing the root causes of the pandemic – our fractured relationship to nature. Unless we repair it, humanity will face consequences even worse than this pandemic.