Thursday, February 13, 2020

Indifference is not an Option

Finnish Lapland is as close as reality gets to those who dream of a winter wonderland. The contrasts in seasons are a key factor in the allure of Lapland, where 24-hour sunlight in the summer replaces the dark winter days. It is one of the must-see destinations on many people’s wish lists (including mine) to see the wonders of the world. This paradise on earth is looking a lot less attractive to visit as this area in Finland seems one of the latest casualties to be rocked by the coronavirus. The deadly virus has now spread to Lapland, a region stretching into the Arctic Circle that has seen an increase in Chinese tourism. A tourist visiting from Wuhan tested positive after reporting being ill to local health workers on Jan. 29. Officials sent an epidemiologist and a Chinese-speaking researcher north from Helsinki who helped track down 21 people who had been in contact with the tourist, said Jussi Sane, who coordinated the response from the country’s Department of Health Security. Many of the 21 possible contacts have also been placed in quarantine for 14 days. This Scandinavian country is about 5,000 miles away from Wuhan, China.

Meanwhile, in China, the country that boasts the world’s largest population, the authorities have gone into full-blown panic mode. The Chinese government has begun a mass roundup of its citizens in certain parts of the country to contain the virus. The orders to begin mass quarantines in Wuhan came down from the government last week to “round up everyone who should be rounded up,” part of a “wartime” campaign to contain the fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak. This potentially deadly virus is now a global menace that has thus far killed over 1,300 people. The financial impact is staggering as it dealt not only a massive blow to the mighty Chinese economy but to economies around the world. The Israeli government instructed health authorities to work toward a vaccination against the coronavirus. It approved plans to establish a vaccine factory in the country last week, amid the continued spread of the illness across the globe.

Maimonides writes in the Laws of Public Fasting that when society is faced with a calamity, one is obligated to begin a process of reflection and introspection. That should lead a person to prayer and a call to the Almighty to bring an end to the devastation. If one takes the opposite approach and chooses to be indifferent and says it is a mere coincidence, the Maimonides writes that not only is this a lost opportunity but downright dangerous. This is because he writes, G-d is trying to wake up the masses, and we must take note. If we intentionally ignore the warning signs, the Maimonides writes that the situation can further deteriorate. It’s important to note that historically the Maimonides was known for his rationalist approach to life. He was known to be a fear monger or superstitious in the slightest.

I sense that we are at a pivotal moment here. The largest country in the world is at its knees because of a virus that emanated from a bat or a snake. Let us take a moment or two to reflect, introspect, and pray that this menacing virus comes to an end once and for all.


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