Think about the ‘Spanish flu’ of a century ago. It broke out in Europe that was ending WW I. Soldiers got it at the battlefield, and survivors carried it home to all their respective home countries. Most countries thought it dangerous to reveal that they were stricken and paralyzed by an epidemic and, through national censorship, would block publication. Only Spain didn’t care. So, this Europe-wide outbreak got known as the Spanish flu.
It lasted one or two years. It was transported to the US where it also ran out of juice within a year and a half.
So, why do we now have a pandemic that seems ready to stay with us for years and years? Is it more vicious? Is this unprecedented?
One reason is that, different from the flu virus, it’s not season-dependent. But there must be more. And there is. Plenty.
One hundred years ago, few people moved from country to country. From continent to continent could take months. Now, so many people, for work and leisure, fly around the globe in hours. Every moment, the virus can find new populations of millions of people to infect. And not just people. Pets and overflying birds also could make corona a virus that keeps giving.
Not only international travel had skyrocketed. For so many centuries, people had lived, married, and died in one village. Conscription or war was often the sole reason anyone went anywhere. Peace made people remain.
And, urbanization made giant cities where so many people huddle in small quarters. How does New York even have enough oxygen for everyone without them taking turns breathing? (Exaggeration for dramatic effect.)
And while now, a virus can keep racing around, it can mutate and mutate, until spontaneously, more-vicious subtypes evolve. Better still, for the virus, would be new subtypes that can circumvent immunity we received from previous types. We see it happening in front of our eyes.
But there is more. Good fortune and being spoiled is turning against us.
A century ago, microbes were practically unknown, no antibiotics were yet discovered or constructed, and knowledge about immunity was sparse. So, any type of plague scared people and made them cautious and stay home.
Nowadays, many claim ‘the right to freedom to do whatever they want.’ They violate doctors’ and governments’ orders. They’re not scared since medical science supposedly has endless powers. So, they can reject masks and vaccinations, and pretend it’s all a hoax. Denial is not a river in Egypt.
Nationalism, racism, and snobbism made democratic societies largely immune to empathy with the less fortunate. A group of sick have-nots disturbed a disturbingly small number of the rich. But, our connectedness has brought everyone closer. One isolated ‘remote’ AIDS patient can kill millions everywhere. Every country not caring about millions of its citizens dying from an epidemic can become a breeding ground for a dangerous pandemic. Suddenly we find ourselves all in the same boat. (The same with climate change. Every irresponsible country endangers everyone else.)
In summary, the coronavirus we now have is not so special. But the many ways in which we humans enable it, make it an ongoing and vile plague.
When we pray for an end to the carnage, let’s make sure we don’t blame G^d for something we are causing ourselves. Instead, ask for courage and success in being in the team to help stop humans to dig our own graves.
And this is nothing new either. From the Holocaust to earthquakes, human callousness (hatred, disobeying building norms) has caused most deaths.