A few weeks ago, Argentina and Uruguay declared national health emergencies following outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1, the fast-moving virus that destroys poultry flocks and wild birds, and for decades has been feared as a possible spark for a pandemic among people.
That makes 10 South American countries that have recently marked their first-ever encounter with the virus, including Peru—where more than 50,000 wild birds died last fall, and more than 600 sea lions in January of 2023. Combine the sea lion infections with the revelation that H5N1 flu invaded a mink farm in Spain in October 2022, and health authorities must now confront the possibility that the unpredictable virus may have adapted to threaten other species of mammals.
The H5N1 bird flu virus kills both wild and domestic waterfowl and chickens, and together with repeated efforts to stop the spread of the virus by culling birds, has caused the death of more than 140 million birds. The H5N1 virus has a high mortality rate in humans when it does jump, about 50%, which so far, has been rare, and more than 150 people have died as a result of H5N1 infection. But if it did jump to humans, deaths would be much higher than those from Covid-19.
Nearly three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus continues to evolve, with a new omicron sub-variant called XBB.1.5, sweeping the world and 6,862,902 deaths so far worldwide and 1,127,037 in the USA.
When millions of devout Hindus gathered almost two years ago in the Himalayan town of Haridwar to participate in the Kumbh Mela festival even as India battled a devastating second wave of coronavirus, many feared that it would be a "super-spreader event”. Those fears did come true, with tens of thousands of reports of Kumbh returnees testing positive, and spreading the infection in many parts of India. While Buddhists and Hindus can blame the Covid19 plague on bad Karma, members of the Abrahamic religions face a greater theological challenge.
In the USA the coronavirus has prompted almost two-thirds of American religious believers to feel that God is telling humanity to change how it lives according to a poll conducted by the University of Chicago Divinity School and The Associated Press which indicates many people are searching for deeper meaning in the devastating COVID-19 outbreak.
The poll found that 62% of Americans who believe in God feel strongly or somewhat strongly that the virus is a sign from God telling humanity to change. Evangelical Protestants are more likely than others to believe that strongly, at 43%, compared with 28% of Catholics and mainline Protestants.
The survey showed perhaps not surprisingly, nearly half of the white evangelicals in the U.S. (49%) said their faith grew stronger due to the coronavirus outbreak — more than any other group. U.S. Catholics came in second, with 35% saying their faith increased. Among mainline Protestants, 21% said their faith was bolstered by the pandemic, while 5% of people who do not affiliate with any religion at all said their faith grew.
The good news is that 26-28% of Americans polled say their sense of faith or spirituality has grown stronger as a result of the outbreak. Only 1% say their sense of faith or spirituality has weakened.
So all of us are being tested personally as individuals; and as organic members of a nation, a society, and even the whole of humanity.
We are tested as individuals as the Qur’an states: “Indeed We shall put you to test; some with fear and hunger, and some with loss of wealth, lives, and offspring. And (Muhammad) convey good tidings to those who are patient, who say, when inflicted by hardship, "Indeed we are of God and to Him shall we return;" upon them is the blessings of Allah and His mercy.” (Quran 2:155)
And the Hebrew Bible states: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)
And we are tested as a nation, community, or society as God states: “So that I may test them, whether they will follow My law or not” (Torah Exodus 16:4) and "Remember the entire path along which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the desert, He sent hardships to test you." (Torah Deuteronomy 8:2).
“Or do you think that you will enter Paradise before Allah tests those of you who fought and (also) tests those who are patient [believers who suffer]? (Qur’an 3:142).
“One who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler; and from deadly pestilence.” (Zabur, Psalm 91:1-3)
Allen S. Maller is an ordained Reform Rabbi who retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Los Angeles, California. His website is: www.rabbimaller.com. He blogs on the Times of Israel. Rabbi Maller has published 850+ articles in some two dozen different Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and websites. Over 150 of his articles are on islamicity.com and Eurasia Review.com. Rabbi Maller’s three recent books: "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms’; "Which Religion Is Right For You?”; and Qur'an and Torah, Islam, and Judaism are available on Amazon.