One of the most dramatic moments in the Bible is the Passover. It is so called because God “passed over” the houses of Israelites, sparing them from the plague.Blood, frogs, lice, wild beasts, cattle disease, boils, hail, locusts, and the darkness couldn’t bring the Pharoah to his knees. So God tells Moses to convey the message of his last and final plague—the slaying of the firstborn. Only the Israelites will be spared. Each Hebrew household had to kill a lamb and paste its blood on their doors. They would be saved form the grief. But the impending doom was on those houses not marked with blood.Considering we are all holed up in our houses, waiting for the virus to pass over, this page from the Bible is what stuck out for me.
You could look at pandemics and epidemics from a religious stand point or from molecular biology. But what both of them can actually conclude is a state of imbalance. An equilibrium that is disturbed. An ecosystem that is collapsing.
In 165 AD, the Antonine Plague or otherwise known as the Plague of Galen affected large parts of Asia, Egypt, Greece and Italy. The cause is unknown. Probably because science was still simmering and not fully advanced. But it is believed that it was brought back to Rome by soldiers returning from Mesopotamia, unknowingly of course. In a span of months, they had spread the disease with a death toll of over five million including the decimation of the Roman Army.
The Bubonic Plague was infamous because it killed half the population of Europe. 25 million people was the death count, which means 5000 people were being put in graves every day. Can you imagine how dangerous it was to live in those times? Without the advent of medicine and technology, it was rampant and the Plague of Justinian in 541-542 is remembered for its horrific times.
Ports were the airports of 1346. They were also the perfect breeding ground for rats and fleas. The outbreak annihilated three continents, namely Europe, Africa, and Asia. With the fleas living on rats acting as carriers, the death toll went up to a massive 75-200 million and lasted for years together.
Cholera pandemics followed suit in 1852 and in 1910. But by this time, healthcare had improved. So isolation was put in effect. All the six times it sprung back to life, it originated in India. From there, it spread to parts of Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe and Russia. By 1923, cases dramatically decreased.
The 1918 outbreak is probably the worst in recent times as it crushed the world. It ended up infecting a third of the world’s population. That’s a huge number. Don’t gloss over it. That is a huge number. 500 million people were infected with 25 million deaths just in the first 25 weeks alone. Do the math. What was also very intriguing about this influenza was that it even warped the immune systems of perfectly healthy adults. All the times before, influenza had affected the infants and the elderly. It was too powerful for any human to outlive it.
HIV/AIDS proved to be another horrible pandemic that took many, many lives. But by then there were a new crop of awareness programs, facilities, clinics, testing, medicines, doctors and nurses. There were organizations, volunteers and what not.
The year is 2020.
What all these anecdotes should do is not to create a state of frenzy and panic. What it should do is quite the opposite. They should humble us to our very core. We are absolutely a speck of the dust. We are puny creatures in this vast space called the Universe.
With the wake of the coronavirus, we should also wake up.