Issue 229: 2020 04 16: How Many Plagues?

16 April 2020

How Many Plagues?

The great multi-tasker.

By Neil Tidmarsh

Biblical? Well, it does seem to have hit us at exactly the same time of year that the Old Testament plagues hit Egypt. Passover began last week – the festival originated in the culmination of the Plagues of Egypt, the fourteenth day of Nissam (8 April this year) being the date when the Angel of Death visited the last and most deadly of the plagues on the people of Egypt but ‘passed over’ and spared the locked-down people of Israel.

Italy’s terrible coronavirus experience is another interesting coincidence. And perhaps a mysterious one at that. It’s no accident that Edgar Allan Poe set his Masque of the Red Death in Italy; just as all pestilences seem to originate in China, so they seem to hit Europe first and hardest in Italy. Historically, this isn’t surprising. In the Classical Age (Constantine’s plague of 333, Justinian’s plague of 542, etc), Europe’s contact with the East was through the Roman Empire. In the Middle Ages (the Black Death of 1348, Boccaccio’s Decameron, etc), it was through the Silk Road activities of Italian merchants such as Marco Polo. But in the twenty-first century… why Italy?

There were, of course, not one but ten Plagues of Egypt. So, Exodus, what else are you telling us to expect? A plague of locusts? Waters turning blood red, killing off marine life? Fires and violent weather destroying crops and cattle? Perhaps even more up-to-date Apocalypse scenarios, such as vampire invasion? Nuclear disaster? Weird, gigantic, unknown monsters emerging from the depths of the earth and the oceans?

Well, as it happens, also in the news this week…

A plague of locusts has indeed hit east Africa. Billions of the pests, in swarms the size of big cities, are devastating the region. In Ethiopia alone, they’ve destroyed half a million acres of farmland and put a million people in need of emergency aid.

In Australia, the waters haven’t turned red but the coral – which should be red – is turning white, in the third serious “bleaching” in five years. Overheating is turning the coral reef white and killing it off (high temperatures and bush fires in recent months have made the water there the warmest since records began over a century ago). This also threatens the lives of those marine organisms at home there; at least 1500 species of fish, as much as 10% of the world’s total, live on the Great Barrier Reef. At the other end of the country, a huge, mysterious, tentacled sea-creature 150 feet long has been found floating off the coast of Western Australia.

Tornados hit the eastern side of the USA, killing at least thirty people, damaging hundreds of homes, causing floods and knocking out electricity all the way from Louisiana up to the Appalachian Mountains. Meanwhile, in California, the iconic Joshua tree – having existed for almost three million years – is now facing extinction, thanks to drought, fires and expanding cities.

In Ukraine, hundreds of firefighters are struggling against a rapidly spreading blaze which started two weeks ago (arson is suspected) near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant; it’s now a mere two kilometres from a facility where the most radioactive waste from Chernobyl is stored.

In Malawi, mobs have killed at least a dozen suspected vampires. Villagers, fearful of vampire attacks, are too frightened to sleep alone and are spending the nights in groups outside their homes. During the day they set up road blocks and search vehicles. Foreign health workers, with their vaccines and blood tests, are often their targets. The UN and the country’s president have tried to dispel the rumours of a blood-sucking cult, and at least 120 arrests have been made, but victims continue to be stoned, beaten or burned to death. Oh, and it seems that Ebola is back; at least two people have died of it in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the last week, after seven weeks of no cases.

And other news this week reminds us that that other Apocalyptic thoroughbred – War – is still galloping towards the finishing post; armed conflict in Libya, Kashmir, Syria, Burma and Yemen (ok, Saudi is calling for a ceasefire there, but no one’s holding their breath) continues to take its toll among combatants and civilians alike.

The Grim Reaper is a deft multi-tasker. We’re wrong if we think he (or she) is too busy with the coronavirus to make much of an effort with anything else. The Angel of Death is indeed hard at work with the pandemic, but this hasn’t left his (or her) hands full; beyond the Covid-19 headlines, those hands continue to juggle many other balls.



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