Spreading Chinese coronavirus has the world on edge
News headlines have been changing by the day with the rapid spread of a new strain of coronavirus from China. On Jan. 30, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global emergency in response to the international spread of the virus, hoping to prevent outbreaks in countries that do not have the resources and standards to contain it. Despite the extreme quarantine measures being taken in China, cases have already been confirmed in dozens of other countries, including the United States.
Coronavirus causes a respiratory infection. Previous strains include the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic of 2002-2003, which also originated from China and took almost 800 lives, and the MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) outbreak that began in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and killed even more.
Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they originate in and usually only infect animals. However, history has shown that viruses jumping from animals to human beings is both possible and very dangerous. For example, the infamous Spanish Flu of 1918 began when influenza strains in wild and domesticated birds began to interact with human influenza virus strains to produce a particularly infectious and deadly mix.
The new strain of coronavirus is said to have originated in a so-called “wet market” in the city of Wuhan, China. These markets are known for trading in a wide variety of exotic meats and for unsanitary conditions.
Since the SARS outbreak, public health officials around the world have warned of the danger such markets pose in allowing zoonotic viruses to cross species, as they put live and recently slaughtered animals in close proximity to one another amid large and dense masses of people. This is made worse by the diversity of species offered in markets such as the one in Wuhan, which trade in cats, dogs, bats, snakes, turtles, seafood and many other forms of wildlife that are not typically consumed in the Western diet and would not normally have the opportunity to share viruses.
The new virus has been reported as originating in bats or snakes, both of which are designated as unfit for human consumption by God’s food laws found in Leviticus 11. God’s laws also prohibit the consumption of blood (Genesis 9:4), which despite being a known source of infectious disease, is still consumed in many cultures. Maintaining sanitary conditions and humane treatment of one’s livestock is also a biblical principle (Proverbs 12:10) routinely violated in modern times—also contributing to diseases now plaguing the world. Some say the virus entered the Wuhan market from outside, arguing it was engineered in a bioweapons lab and slipped out. Either way, it poses a major threat.
Viruses with severe, easy-to-recognize symptoms, even if deadlier, are usually easier to contain–precisely because oftheir severity. Since the new coronavirus appears to often result in only mild illness in many individuals, it’s easier for people to transmit it unknowingly, making it very difficult to determine appropriate quarantine boundaries. Currently entire Chinese cities with populations numbering in the millions are under quarantine.
In addition to Chinese quarantine measures, other governments have tightly restricted travel to and from China. It’s very possible the outbreak is already far more widespread than has been realized, as those with only mild symptoms may not seek medical treatment at all and would thus go unreported—even as they unknowingly spread the virus further.
Another major factor in the development of new viruses is how easily it spreads through human-to-human contact. Coronaviruses typically infect animals, like many strains of influenza, but become dangerous when they mutate and gain the ability to infect humans.
The Swine Flu (a strain of influenza known as H1N1) outbreak in 2009-2010 is an example of a virus that mutated to become very efficient at human-to-human transmission. In the 2009-2010 flu season, Swine Flu infected 60 million people in the United States and caused about 12,500 deaths, a relatively low death rate of around 0.002%.
There is a deadly balance between the human-to-human transmission rate and the lethality of a virus that has many concerned about the latest coronavirus. Viruses with very high death rates, such as Ebola (around 50 percent), tend to be self-limiting, like a flame that burns very brightly for a short time. The reason for this is that viral infections require a living host in order to spread.
Viruses that act most quickly are often the most deadly by percentage since the disease can easily be too far advanced by the time a person realizes he needs treatment. However, if a slower-acting virus with a moderate death rate is able to sustain a high transmission rate, the overall impact on the world population can be devastating by comparison.
As this issue was going to press, this new coronavirus has spread to dozens of countries and totaled tens of thousands of infections. The infection is estimated to be lethal for about 2 percent of those who become ill. This is already a much lower estimated lethality than either SARS (10 percent) or MERS (35 percent)—however, it also opens the potential for the virus to spread to far more people throughout the world.
As the World Health Organization has pointed out, overpopulated countries with poor sanitation standards are at the highest risk, as was the case with the 2013-2016 Ebola outbreak. Unlike the flu, there are no current vaccines against coronavirus because it has not been widespread among people. Furthermore, because the virus is new to human beings, there has not been time for natural immunity to develop either.
Many of these outbreaks could have been prevented by obedience to God’s food laws, the sanitation and quarantine standards revealed in the Bible and humane treatment of one’s animals, as God has instructed. All human misery is the result of sin and the process of decay that encompasses the world, but God promises that the entire creation “will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:20-21).
Call 988: the next step to combat the U.S. suicide epidemic
In December 2019, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unanimously approved the creation and implementation of a three-digit suicide prevention hotline, similar in purpose to 911. The phone number 911 is the general emergency number used across North America, with children often taught from an early age how to dial it, and the simple three-digit number (similar to those used in other countries) has saved countless lives. The reasoning behind the suicide prevention hotline’s three-digit number, 988, is the same.
The decision comes in response to an overwhelming surge in deaths by suicide over the last decade. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with more than 47,000 suicides in 2017 and an estimated 1.4 million attempts that same year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2017 suicide was the second-leading cause of death for Americans aged 10-34 and the fourth-leading cause for Americans in the 35-54 age group. Americans aged 10-34 are more likely to die by suicide than heart disease or homicide.
The current national suicide prevention hotline, 1-800-273-TALK, already routes callers to a network of 163 call centers nationwide. When implemented, the 988 number would have the same function while improving accessibility.
A Washington Post article noted: “The decision comes as the United States grapples with a spike in suicides, even as rates are on the decline in other parts of the world. The suicide rate hasn’t been this high since World War II” (Taylor Telford, “FCC Advances Plans for 988, a National Suicide-Prevention Hotline,” Dec. 13, 2019).
According to the same article, commissioners at the FCC meeting that approved 988 commented that “more than 20 veterans commit suicide each day, and more than 500,000 LGBTQ youth attempt to kill themselves annually. In 2018, more first responders died by suicide than in the line of duty.” The proposal gives nationwide communications systems 18 months to implement 988.
Within the varying circumstances those who attempt or die by suicide find themselves in, the common denominator is often a lack of hope. Beyond Today strives to share the good news of the coming Kingdom of God to offer hope to all who hear it.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the U.S. hotline, 1-800-273-TALK, or one in your region. Also request our free study guide Suicide: Understanding and Preventing It. (Source: The Washington Post.)
Brexit official; Britain and EU enter uncharted waters
On Jan. 31, 2020, Britain officially left the European Union, becoming the first nation to leave the superstate. Britain was the EU’s second-biggest member nation, its large economy contributing much to the union. Some Britons had longed for this day for decades, while others feared it for economic or political reasons. Still others believed the actual exit would never happen. And some leaders believe Britain will return to the European Union before long.
Brexit began after a June 2016 referendum, which only passed by a 51 percent majority. This kicked off a process that lasted longer than anyone imagined. It was a four-year circus of political fighting, negotiations, renegotiations, poll-taking, media frenzies, government collapses, bitter elections and, finally, the agreement between Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s freshly formed government and the European Union. Instead of taking effect at midnight in London, it happened at 11 p.m. there, midnight in Brussels.
As difficult as Brexit was, this next stage will probably be harder, as Britain must negotiate new relationships and trade agreements with other countries. EU countries wanting to make an example of Britain may try to make London’s economic life harder than it needs to be. But no one really knows how the exit will impact Europe and the global markets.
Nigel Farage, one of the chief architects of Brexit and a member of the European Parliament, declared June 23, the date of the British referendum, Britain’s “Independence Day.” In his final speech to the EU Parliament on Jan. 29, Mr. Farage summed up the reasons Britain left: “So this is it, the final chapter, the end of the road . . . My view has changed of Europe since I joined. In 2005 I saw the Constitution that had been drafted . . . I saw it rejected by the French in a referendum. I saw it rejected by the Dutch in a referendum, and I saw you in these institutions ignore them, bring it back as the Lisbon Treaty and boast you could ram it through without there being referendums. Well the Irish did have a vote and did say no and were forced to vote again. You’re very good at making people vote again, but what we’ve proved is the British are too big to bully . . . So I became an outright opponent of the entire European project.”
Mr. Farage next hoped that Britain’s exit would start a “debate” across Europe about the nature of the EU: “I want Brexit to start a debate across the rest of Europe. What do we want from Europe? If we want trade, friendship, cooperation, reciprocity, we don’t need a European Commission. We don’t need a European Court, we don’t need these institutions and all of this power. And I can promise you, both in UKIP [United Kingdom Independence Party] and indeed in the Brexit party, we love Europe, we just hate the European Union. It’s as simple as that.
“So I’m hoping this begins the end of this project. It’s a bad project! It isn’t just undemocratic. It’s anti-democratic and . . . it gives people power without accountability. People who cannot be held to account by the electorate. And that is an unacceptable structure.”
During his final comments he and his British compatriots pulled out Britain’s Union Jack flag and waved it with a final goodbye. Mr. Farage’s microphone was then cut off for “disobeying the rules,” and he was told by the Parliament’s chairperson to remove the flags. She said: “Put your flags away, you’re leaving and take them with you if you are leaving now. Goodbye.”
A bright spot for Britain is that Brexit appears to be bringing about the renewing of a special bond between Britain and the United States. Mike Pompeo, U.S. Secretary of State, said Jan. 30 regarding the two nations’ “historic relationship”: “The previous administration took the view that if the United Kingdom made this decision it would be at the back of the line [for a bilateral trade agreement]. We intend to put the United Kingdom at the front of the line.”
The comments about a special relationship between these great nations hold an important key to understanding what is really happening with Brexit. There’s more here than shared language and culture and pursuit of liberty. The roots of the relationship lie in the biblical identity of Britain and the United States, which most do not understand. This identity stands in contrast to the power bloc centered in Europe, which is on a different trajectory. (Sources: Raw footage, news agencies.)