Islam

Friday Sermon: The Eleventh Plague

By Babatunde Jose

“We see death coming into our midst like black smoke, a plague which cuts off the young, a rootless phantom  which has no mercy or fair countenance.”  – Jeuan Gethin

The current outbreak of Coronavirus is unprecedented in the annals of world epidemics; lately declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, it spells doom for both man and country. It has wrought in its wake both health and economic crisis; a very dangerous combination. So far the virus has been contained in its lethality than previous plagues; thanks to medical science, but this will not be so for long.  World economy will not be the same again; not with China, the factory of the world under lockdown. With shortages of everything from auto parts to generic medicines and production delays in things like iPhones and HP computers and printers, a great deal of pain is coming from the closing of Chinese factories. That proliferating damage has central banks and financial analysts talking about a global recession; while stock markets all over the world are in a state of turmoil: Some like the New York Stock Exchange was forced to suspend trading on Thursday.

From tennis tournaments to horse racing, football matches, NBA, formula 1 and even the Tokyo Summer Olympics stand threatened: Even Arsenal FC is under quarantine and its matches postponed; this also applies to Real Madrid with Manchester City match cancelled. Good soccer games are now being played to empty stadia and might soon be cancelled all together. Death on a mass scale is being predicted and attack rates of 50 to 70 percent of world population, is now a possibility.

The Coronavirus (Covid-19) is worse than the coming Biblical battle of Megiddo or Armageddon. God is indeed angry with man for his transgressions and inequities. For the first time in millennia, Islam’s holiest site the Kaaba in Mecca was ‘completely deserted’. The decision to suspend the Umrah which comes ahead of the holy fasting month of Ramadan starting in late April, which is a favored period for pilgrimage, has spelt spiritual doom to many aspiring pilgrims. It is unclear how the Coronavirus will affect the Hajj, due to start in late July. Catholics now receive Holy Communion on their palms. Getting very serious; with nations increasing testing and travel restrictions.

Deen Koontz  in his 1981 book, ‘The Eye of Darkness’ (fiction) referred to  ‘The Wuhan-400’ a virus apparently developed as a bioweapon with a 100 percent fatality rate, but  on the contrary, COVID-19 has a fatality rate of 0.2 percent. While the Wuhan-400 only has an extremely short four-hour incubation period, the COVID-19 requires an incubation period between 2 to 14 days. Finally, the Wuhan-400 was said to only affect human beings, but the first cases of Coronavirus are believed to have been from animal to human interactions.

There have also been attempts to link the Coronavirus to the coming of the ‘Four Horsemen’ of the Biblical Book of Revelation signaling the End Time. Conspiracy theorists also mentioned the predictions of Nostradamus 500 years ago about the coming plague. However, according to Brian Dunning, the author of the Skeptoid podcast, Nostradamus’ predictions requires a great deal of hindsight to link to world events. Dunning said Nostradamus’ writings are grossly misrepresented and not genuine forecasts of the future. “His writings are exploited in a number of fallacious ways: Ambiguous and wrong translations, ‘creative’ interpretations, hoax writings, fictional accounts, and the breaking of non-existent codes within his quatrains all contribute to a vast body of work, all of it wrong; and trivialize his good works in favor of a pretended history of paranormal magical powers.”

However, we can learn from the past as scientists have looked to history to model how pandemics might progress. Several major plagues were documented in the Ancient world, and they tell us something about how diseases and populations interact. The most ancient in our written history, the Plagues of Pharaoh, were (according to the Book of Exodus) visited upon Egypt. Several were infestations rather than infections, but the plague of pestilence which killed all the cattle was an infectious disease which could easily have been rinderpest. The plague of boils was a festering, contagious, skin eruption which could have been impetigo, and some historians have suggested that the final plague, the death of the first born, might have been due to infected food which was given selectively to the first born when times were lean.

The ’10 Plagues of Pharaoh’ show the fear such calamitous events inspire, sweeping innocent and guilty aside together. Though, they give us cultural references they tell us little more, as they were essentially local events. However, there have been more devastating plagues that resulted in widespread deaths on an unimaginable level.

The Plague of Justinian (541–542 AD) with recurrences until 750 AD was a pandemic that afflicted the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire and especially its capital, Constantinople, as well as port cities around the entire Mediterranean. Some historians believe the plague of Justinian was one of the deadliest pandemics in history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 25–50 million people during two centuries of recurrence, a death toll equivalent to 13–26% of the world’s population at the time of the first outbreak. It was exacerbated by the lack of hygiene, rather than person-to-person transfer that, was responsible for the devastating worldwide consequences.

The Black Death reached Europe in 1348, also known as the Pestilence, Great Bubonic Plague or the Plague was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia; a third of Europe’s population, 50% of England’s.

The Great Plague of London, lasting from 1665 to 1666, was the last major epidemic of the bubonic plague to occur in England. … The plague was caused by the Yersinia pestis bacterium. It killed an estimated 100,000 people—almost a quarter of London’s population—in 18 months.

Bubonic plague is largely preventable with good public health measures and, now, is treatable with antibiotics. It shows us how a disease can move through a population and can keep coming in pandemic waves.

Disease and epidemics occur as a result of the interaction of infectious agent, host, and environment. An understanding of these interactions is crucial to determine the best approach to prevent or control the continuing spread of an epidemic; hence the current resort to lockdown of whole population and quarantine. This is supported by history: As the 1918 influenza epidemic spread through the US, Wilmer Krusen, Philadelphia’s health commissioner, allowed a huge parade to take place in which some 200,000 people marched. In the following days and weeks, over 12,000 residents had died. Whereas in St. Louis, by contrast, a public health commissioner named Max Starkloff decided to shut the city down; only 500 deaths were recorded. The per capita fatality rate in St. Louis was half that of Philadelphia. Are we prepared to shut down mosques, churches and ban Owambe parties and other contact gatherings when ‘the come comes to become’?

Lassa fever, a viral hemorrhagic disease, has almost 100%, rapid mortality. It may cause a local plague as it is highly infectious, but, as it is rapidly lethal and confined to certain temperature and humidity zones, it tends to be rapidly shut down, first by its own lethality and secondly by its lack of tolerance of varied geo-zones. Despite this, it has continued to ravage our land.

Influenza, on the other hand, passes all three challenges. It is easy to transmit, of low mortality and is able to survive in all ecological zones and, indeed, alone on hard surfaces for several hours. Thus, whenever the virus merges with a new immunogenic identity, the conditions are met for pandemic spread.  Coronavirus or the 11th Plague meets all these conditions, hence its seriousness for world attention.

To contain disease we can strike at several points:  Reducing the susceptibility of individuals – through immunization, through improved nutrition which improves natural resistance, and through our immune systems gradually evolving resistance to the disease itself.

Reducing transmission at the setting – through hygiene control, wearing of barriers such as masks and gloves especially for care-givers, and control of transmission vectors: Hence, the need to isolate and quarantine patients.

Reducing spread – through limiting the movement of exposed or infected individuals was famously employed during the Black Death when the infected were boarded into their houses until they died or got better. The same approach is being followed in China, Italy and all countries where the 11th Plague has spread to.

Our bodies are the tool the organism uses to multiply and spread. This is true from bubonic plague to the common cold.

Influenza spreads extremely easily through coughing and sneezing, and is infectious well before it is symptomatic; so also is the Coronavirus.

New diseases generally come from old diseases. Managing a pandemic is a problem for the world, not just individual populations. The WHO’s  Global Alert and Response network (GAR) works towards combating the international spread of outbreaks ensuring appropriate technical assistance.

It’s also worth remembering that we only know we have a pandemic when we have one. Planners must spot those organisms that have the potential to become a pandemic. Thus pandemic planning can seem like doom mongering when nothing much happens. But we need to be on top of the game at all time and not until an epidemic breaks. Public health experts continue to tell us that it’s not a matter of if there will ever be another lethal global pandemic, but when. That when is now here in the form of Coronavirus? Are we ready?

Reflecting on diseases and how they have interacted with our ancestors through history can be interesting. We cannot, however, be complacent and we must be ready to plan. New diseases can emerge at any time – witness SARS, avian flu and HIV in recent times – and others will come to challenge us.

There are many epidemiologists who talk about the potential of the virus in terms of attack rates globally that could be between 50% and 70% of the global population. To date, this is the most frightening disease the world has encountered and that includes Ebola, MERS and SARS; and it’s frightening because of the combination of infectiousness and a lethality that appears to be many folds higher than flu.

To this extent therefore, the 11th Plague like other pandemics in the past must be addressed with all that we have. There’s nothing to stop it, besides government interventions, “social distancing,” and personal precautions.

Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend; Aku Corona ooooo!

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