By Paul Ejime
The dates for the celebration of Easter, Ramadan, Passover and other religious feasts may vary from year to year but the spiritual significance of these occasions is felt across religions and even by non-adherents. Unfortunately, this year these solemn ceremonies have coincided with the period of global anxiety, fear, confusion, anguish, near hopelessness and deep sense of loss unleashed by an unseen enemy, the Coronavirus disease or COVID-19.
Between December, 2019, when the pandemic broke in Wuhan, China and 10th April, 2020, it had infected some 1.7 million people and claimed more than 100,000 lives across some 210 nations and territories worldwide, and still counting. Some parallels have been drawn between COVID-19 and previous pandemics including the 1918 H1N1 flu pandemic, also called the “Spanish flu,” which killed 50 million people worldwide, the 2009 H1N1 and more recently, the Ebola virus pandemics. But what is most puzzling to scientists and virus hunters is how the COVID-19 has managed to catch even the most developed and technologically advanced nations unawares and overwhelmed their top-notch health system, to say nothing of the under-funded and poorly managed health institutions of developing nations.
For the first time in modern history, whole nations are under lock down; commercial activities and world economy are in intensive care, as COVID- 19 patients gasp for oxygen in isolation centres. Churches, Mosques and other worship centres are closed, stores and supermarkets are under lock and key, social life is outlawed, sporting activities banned with some sport centres and cinemas shut or turned to emergency hospitals, while humans are forced to be physically or socially distant, quarantined or in self-isolation, all in an effort to stem the spread of the deadly virus. Workers, apart from those on essential services, either work from home or are jobless at home. Schools at all levels are shut or forced to operate online. Indeed, the world has been in ‘total lockdown’, to use the slang introduced to the English lexicon by North Americans.
But the most severe and emotionally wrenching effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is the agony of family members and friends forced to distance themselves from their infected or even dying loved ones. Patients are treated like lepers, many dying without goodbyes from or to their loved ones.
On the economic front, International aid group, Oxfam has warned that half a billion more people could be pushed into poverty by the coronavirus pandemic, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) also telling the world to brace for the worst economic crisis since the depression of the 1930s. There has been no shortage of theories around the cause/s of the COVID-19, its possible cure or treatment, amid accusations and counter-accusations over the level of effective responses or lack thereof.
As expected, governments are throwing trillions of dollars at the problem in form of measures for solutions. It remains to be seen how things will eventually pan out.
But what is clear is that the COVID-19 pandemic may have transformed the world beyond recognition and it behoves humanity to turn the adversity into an opportunity for good. The pandemic has demystified the concept of human super power. Both the rich and the poor are literally quarantined in their homes. Airplanes, including private jets, ocean going vessels, cruise ships, yachts and expensive luxury vehicles are grounded, national borders are closed, and not even the high and mighty and celebrities have been spared by the rampaging virus.
But from the gloom and doom have also emerged some success stories, heroic acts and heroes, especially the frontline health workers and care givers who continue to sacrifice their own lives to save others. While scores of these heroes have died on the line of duty, some of them who contracted the disease and recovered have jumped straight onto the line of fire! There are also amazing reports about hundreds of thousands of the COVID-19 survivors, just as there are inspiring and heart-warming stories of charity and philanthropic gestures by individuals and corporate bodies in many countries. These are all beacons pointing to light at the end of the tunnel.
But coronavirus has exposed the ugly underbelly of human weaknesses and government inadequacies especially in health care. With behaviours such as shaking of hands likely to be reconsidered, it might not be business as usual any more post-COVID-19 pandemic. Some lessons from this affliction include the urgent need to strengthen community life and solidarity among individuals and international partnerships among nations. Nobody or country no matter how richly endowed or powerful can go it alone. Governments must do more to ramp up health systems improvement and the provision of social safety nets to address the needs of the poor, weak and vulnerable populations across the world. Families should interact and communicate more for bonding and parents must share quality time with their children. Social media is a great tool for communication, but it is not a substitute for inter-personal relationship. Indeed, one down side of the Coronavirus pandemic is the menace of ‘infodemic’ – the stream of misinformation, half-truths or “fake news.”
But still on the positive side, strict observance of personal hygiene, including hand washing, can only improve the health of individuals. Political leaders must improve the health of citizens and corporate organisations and the science world, must rise above selfish interests and pecuniary benefits to work for a healthy and disease-free world.
No thanks to COVID-19, out of the abundance of caution, large gatherings will not be allowed at worship centres, including for Easter, Passover, Ramadan and other religious and social ceremonies in many parts of the world. But the fact remains, that a pandemic cannot stop the faithful from worshipping their God. The situation requires innovation, a change of attitude and strategy. COVID-19 has challenged the world. Faith leaders have to evolve creative ways of reaching their members using the various social network tools and platforms. A deep spiritual reflection is also required to reveal some blessings in disguise from the COVID-19 pandemic. God is one and everywhere. He answers prayers made with a sincere heart not necessarily from palatial worship centres or magnificent edifices. The guidelines on physical or social distancing are part of temporary emergency measures to save lives. Social distancing is not spiritual isolation and therefore, cannot hinder spiritual communion or fellowship among believers.
So, in the spirit of the special occasion, and given the present reality, there is the need more than ever before for governments to improve the living conditions of populations worldwide. Faith leaders must innovate and provide genuine spiritual leadership, encourage community life and synergise with the secular leadership to bring the world closer to God, the Almighty, for justice, equity, harmony, peaceful co-existence, unity and a disease-free world.
Happy Easter and please Stay Safe, one and all!