Fragile People on a Fragile Planet: A Reflection on the Coronavirus, COVID-19, Challenge
As I write this, the world is shut down. People are at home. I just talked by email with a student in Iran. He referred to what is happening as “chaos.” I have communicated with a professor in Israel and much of that country is now having the people work from home. I was going to present a series of lectures in Southeast Asia, but the people are prohibited from gathering in an auditorium. The doors to my own office building at the university in the United States now are locked.
The coronavirus has altered everyday life……all across the globe.
So many are wondering: How did this happen? When will this end? Will there be a mutated resurgence of this virus, as happened with the flu pandemic of 1918-1919? Will people continue to die? Will the economy die?
Prior to this pandemic, people were gathering, going about their lives, thinking that all they have to do to get the next cheeseburger is drive or walk to the nearest fast-food chain and there it will be. Now I hear that gun sales are skyrocketing and it is difficult to buy ammunition because people are awaiting food shortages and so others may break into their homes looking for sustenance.
The world is fragile, more fragile than we had thought. In reflecting on this, I think the collective ideas in so many areas of the world were centered on a logical fallacy that I will call modern-protection-through-science. Here is what I mean: As we look back on some of the pandemics throughout history, we see them occurring in the pre-scientific, pre-technological age. For example, consider:
- The Plague of Justinian which occurred between 541 and 542 AD. The claim is that about 100 million people died in China, parts of Africa, and Europe.
- The Leprosy pandemic of the 11th century spread throughout Europe.
- The Black Plague emerged between 1346 and 1351. An estimated 50 – 200 million people perished, wiping out about 60% of the European population.
- The First Cholera Pandemic of 1817 started in Russia, killing 100 million people, and spread to Great Britain, Spain, India, Africa, Asia, and the United States.
We now know through science that leprosy is a bacterial infection treated with antibiotics. Cholera, we know through science, is treated with rehydration and electrolytes. We are protected for the most part because of scientific knowledge. Yet, I wonder……have people become so reliant on science that they overdo it, thinking that pandemics are tragedies of the past and could never, ever visit us now?
It is this kind of thinking that I am calling the modern-protection-through-science logical fallacy. We go about our business as if the world is a rock-steady, protected place and we are the ones in control. If anything, this new pandemic, which continues to intensify as I write this, may be sufficient to teach us that, indeed, this planet is fragile, perhaps more fragile than we had thought. “Chaos” as the student from Iran put it in the email to me, is now present and throughout the world.
I further wonder if this modern-protection-through-science fallacy has led to yet another fallacy which is this: the-all-people-are-fine fallacy. If we break an arm, science and technology have a way of mending it. Yet, what about the broken heart? Does science have a cure-all for that? Have we been walking around not seeing the inner wounds in others? Have we ignored these wounds, thinking that all is fine and even if someone is not doing so well emotionally, well then, at least we have the science of medicines to assist. Perhaps, as is the case with Mother Earth, we might begin to see that people are fragile. People can break; people might be walking around with big wounds in them and they need more than science to aid them. Maybe they need real human contact, love, forgiving and being forgiven to be healed and to then aid others in their healing.
The COVID-19 pandemic, if anything, might be our teacher: The world is more fragile than we thought. People are more fragile than we thought. Our scientific age does not offer protection, at least in the short-term, from mutated viruses. Our scientific age does not offer protection from betrayals, insensitivities and insults, and bullying from others……that can break our heart. Yet, our knowing this just might motivate many of us to see with new eyes, as the late Lewis Smedes used to put it, and to see how precious each person is.
Science itself will not lead the way to this conclusion of how delicate and worthwhile each person is, but perhaps the pain caused by the most recent pandemic might lead the way to such a conclusion.
South Korean Leader Begs Forgiveness for his Role in Spreading Coronavirus Disease
BBC News, South Korea – The leader of a religious sect in South Korea has publicly apologized and begged forgiveness for the role he and his followers played in spreading the coronavirus (COVID-19) to thousands of others there.
“I would like to offer my sincere apology to the people on behalf of the members,” said Lee Man-hee, head of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a new religious movement (NRM) group. “We did our best but weren’t able to contain it fully.”
Wearing a white mask and fogged glasses, the 88-year-old Lee suddenly stood up in the middle of reading his remarks at a hastily-arranged news conference outside the Shincheonji Church in Gapyeong on March 3rd. He twice silently knelt beside the desk he was seated at and bowed his head to the ground over clasped hands, a significant gesture of contrition in Korean custom.
Lee is the charismatic, self-proclaimed messiah (“the second coming of Jesus”) of the church he founded in 1984. He has been widely criticized for failing to do enough to stop the virus after one of its members tested positive and infected many others.
A 61-year-old female church member developed a fever on February 10 but refused to be tested until a week later. By that time, she had participated in at least two services (along with more than 1,000 other followers) at a Shincheonji Church in the city of Daegu. She also traveled to crowded spots in the capital of Seoul (metro population of 25.6 million) before she contacted a hospital to get tested.
The next day, Feb. 18, health authorities announced she was the country’s 31st confirmed coronavirus case. After that, the number of confirmed cases in South Korea skyrocketed with the majority in the region of Daegu. As of March 22, the country had recorded 8,961 confirmed coronavirus cases (75% of them in Daegu) and 111 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Seoul.
“I don’t know how this happened, but we will make utmost of efforts, and we are aware that we were wrong,” Lee said at the news conference. “We thank the government for making efforts when what we had tried to stop the coronavirus spread wasn’t enough.”
Lee’s news conference came after Seoul’s mayor filed a criminal complaint asking for an investigation into Lee and other church leaders on charges including murder for their failure to cooperate with health officials. Lee had previously called coronavirus the “devil’s deed” designed to stop his church’s growth (he claims about 200,000 followers in South Korea) but, following government orders, he has closed all of the church’s 74 sanctuaries around the country.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has declared the city of Daegu and parts of the surrounding province as “special disaster zones” because of the unusually high number of confirmed cases in that area. Growing anger over the sect’s handling of the outbreak has sparked a petition calling for the church to be disbanded. Nearly 1.2 million people have already signed it.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Washington, DC) recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to South Korea. For an update on the worldwide pandemic, please scroll down to see the article Tracking the Global Coronavirus Outbreak.
- Watch: A 3 min. 24 sec. Wall Street Journal video news report of Lee’s apology.
- Read: In a pandemic, religion can be a balm and a risk
- Read: The Leader of the Religious Sect that Spread Coronavirus In South Korea Says Sorry
- Read: How One Patient Turned Korea’s Virus Outbreak Into an Epidemic
- Keep Up-To-Date: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Tracking the Global Coronavirus Outbreak
The coronavirus pandemic has sickened more than 577,400 people, according to official counts. As of Friday evening, at least 26,678 people have died, and the virus has been detected in at least 171 countries, as graphically illustrated on these maps by
There is evidence on six continents of sustained transmission of the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised against all non-essential travel throughout most of Europe, and to South Korea, China and Iran. The agency has also warned that older and at-risk Americans should avoid travel to any country.
The outbreak is believed to have begun in a seafood and poultry market in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in central China. The virus seems to spread very easily, especially in confined spaces, making containment efforts difficult. It is difficult to know how many people who contract the virus die, but some early estimates put the fatality rate at roughly 1 percent.
The number of known coronavirus cases in the United States continues to grow quickly and has now surpassed that of any other country in the world including mainland China where the virus supposedly originated. As of Thursday morning, there have been at least 100,973 cases of coronavirus confirmed by lab tests and 1,572 deaths in the U.S., according to a New York Times database. That same database details confirmed cases and deaths for all 171 countries.
While the outbreak is a serious public health concern, most people who contract the coronavirus do not become seriously ill, and only a small percentage require intensive care. Older people and those with existing health conditions, like heart or lung disease, are at higher risk.
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The disease was first identified in 2019 in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province in central China, and has since spread globally, resulting in the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic.
Common symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Muscle pain, sputum production, diarrhea, and sore throat are less common. While the majority of cases result in mild symptoms, some progress to severe pneumonia and multi-organ failure. As of 20 March 2020, the rate of deaths per number of diagnosed cases is 4.1 percent; however, it ranges from 0.2 percent to 15 percent, according to age group and other health problems.
The virus is typically spread from one person to another via respiratory droplets produced during coughing. It may also be spread from touching contaminated surfaces and then touching one’s face. Time from exposure to onset of symptoms is generally between two and fourteen days, with an average of five days.
- How to Protect Yourself and Prepare for the Coronavirus
- How the Coronavirus Can and Cannot Spread
- Visit the John Hopkins University and Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center
- Visit the Harvard University Medical School Coronavirus Resource Center