(March 10, 2020 / JNS) A pandemic is taking shape before our very eyes, and the medical, economic, social and political implications are bound to be significant. The increasing number of coronavirus cases being diagnosed daily on almost every continent, alongside plummeting stock markets around the world, have become a matter of routine. The nightmare scenario is here.
The World Health Organization is close to upgrading the coronavirus epidemic to global pandemic status. In economic terms, this means that everything we know about supply and demand is going to change—and fast.
Various experts may argue that the coronavirus is essentially like the flu and that it is only a threat to the elderly or those with preexisting or underlying medical conditions. To them, I say that I have always meant it when I wished both the elderly and the ailing a long life. But regardless, I don’t remember a virus this contagious—or deadly.
For the sake of comparison, the Severe Acute Respiratory System (SARS) outbreak (2002-2003) killed “only” 774 people and was limited “only” to Asia, Canada and some areas in Oceania. SARS-CoV-2, the strain of coronavirus involved in the current outbreak, has already caused the deaths of more than 4,000 people, with more than 114,000 confirmed cases worldwide. No wonder if every day, millions catch “corona panic”—the implications of which are just as severe as those of the virus itself.
Remember the 2008 financial crisis? That wasn’t that long ago. The fact that markets came tumbling down on Monday—and are likely to keep doing so in the coming days—reminded me of those days. Only this time, it’s worse because the system has been infected with a real virus.
This time, people’s livelihood and health are being threatened at the same time, and what could be more important than one’s livelihood and health?
The coronavirus really is driving the world crazy. These are strange days. Empty planes are flying over Europe to keep airlines afloat. Premier League games are held without audiences. All over the world, university classes are held without students, and weddings and family events, without guests.
Jews without Israeli passports cannot visit Israel for the Purim holiday and unless something drastic changes will have to sit out Passover, too. Indeed, it is widely believed that the coronavirus outbreak will get significantly worse before it stabilizes and gets better.
This is a time to see the glass as half-full and to bolster our solidarity.
Here in Israel, people willingly go into self-imposed quarantine so as not to infect others. People—real people, not bots—make sure to leave groceries on their neighbors’ doorsteps, and Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries visit the quarantined to read the Purim Megillah.
Hopefully, we will continue to live up to the challenge that the coronavirus poses if and when the situation gets worse. After all, we are nothing without our solidarity, social cohesion, friendship and responsibility, as individuals and as a society.
The Jewish month of Adar is a time to rejoice, even more so when Purim is upon us. But this Purim is different; it has been usurped by a real virus (we can only wish it was just a costume). This virus, like its predecessors, knows no boundaries nor does it discriminate. It attacks Chinese, Italians, Swiss, Israelis and Iranians.
This is a time in which we wish good health to everyone in the world—there are no enemies in times like these and we all want to hold hands (even though we’re not supposed to). The only positive news in these bleak days are the reports coming out of China suggesting that the outbreak there is waning. That’s something to celebrate this Purim.
In days like these, when airlines are on shaky ground, people’s livelihoods face a tangible threat and the Israeli health-care system is doing everything it can to cope with the situation, it is astounding to see how so many Israelis remain focused on petty politics regarding whether or not Netanyahu should or shouldn’t form the next government, or with virulent attacks on two Blue and White MKs whose only sin is trying to follow their conscience.
Days of atonement in Purim are not the norm, and while the prime minister is navigating the coronavirus crisis with prudence and responsibility (would anyone really dare claim otherwise?), Blue and White MKs Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel rode in to try to save the holiday. They did so without masks.
Then again, maybe it is in Blue and White that are wearing masks. If so, dear Zvi and Yoaz—it’s time to come home!
Boaz Bismuth is editor in chief of Israel Hayom.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.
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