Coronavirus. The new word on the street, the most tweeted hashtag in the world right now and the most feared viral predator around the globe. The virus first emerged in a wet market in Wuhan, China.
Wet markets, which are a common feature in many Asian countries, host a dizzying array of live animals who are butchered on-site. Health experts consider these markets hot spots for new and dangerous infections because of the close proximity between humans and live exotic animals.
In the case of Covid-19, as this new strain of Coronavirus is now called, the exotic animal in question was most likely a bat infected with the virus who then passed it on to patient zero, the first reported case of Covid-19 in Wuhan.
Over the space of a relatively short period of time, the virus blazed through China and then made its way around the globe leaving thousands of infected people in its wake. As the number of cases increased the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 to be a global Pandemic.
Immediately before and after this announcement, the world noticed another trend. This one was somewhat less frightening and decidedly more bizarre than the spread of a new viral epidemic.
Panic buying. And not just any kind of panic buying but panic buying of toilet paper. All around the world media outlets began to show pictures of long lines of shoppers leaning against trolleys loaded down with massive loads of toilet paper.
And then the panic buying epidemic spread to other areas as well. Soon hand sanitizer started to disappear and then rice and pasta and other essential items. Before long, supermarket shelves were wiped clean of produce as soon as they hit the shelves.
What was triggering this mass buying frenzy? Well in a single word; fear. You see with a new and dangerous virus spreading across the globe and rumours of lockdowns thickening the air, people around the world slipped into panic mode and their first response was to stockpile necessities.
The interesting thing is that social epidemics operate along the same lines as viral epidemics do. What do I mean? Well, in his best-selling book “The Tipping Point”, journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell lays out a carefully argued thesis about the similarities between social epidemics and viral epidemics.
One of the most striking is that much like viral epidemics, social epidemics are contagious. In other words, in the same way that Covid-19 is contagious and can be easily transmitted through droplets, the fear it causes can be just as easily transmitted through an atmosphere of panic.
And it doesn’t take much for that fear to escalate and spread. In his fascinating article on collective behaviour in the American Journal of Sociology, Stanford University Professor Mark Granovettor argues that collective behaviour can escalate when it reaches a tipping point.
In other words, when a certain number of people engage in a certain type of behaviour everyone around them feels compelled to behave the same way. Especially when the benefits far outweigh the costs.
So, when all your neighbours are rushing to buy toilet paper because they’re afraid of a lockdown or shortage you feel compelled to do the same thing for the very same reasons. Fear is contagious and viral especially when the number of people who have it increases.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Covid-19 outbreak is the effect it is having on people around the world. The virus itself is contagious but it has given birth to a new type of contagion.
A social epidemic of fear and uncertainty that is not limited to panic buying. The Bible tells us that there will come a time when just such an epidemic of fear will sweep across the globe. Luke 21:26 tells us of a time when men’s hearts will fail them for fear as they look to the future. Here’s what it says:
“Men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth.”
Right now, we are living in such a moment. A time when we face not only a viral epidemic but a social one; a tidal wave of fear and panic that is washing over us with almost overwhelming force. But the Bible can help us stop this tidal wave of fear from engulfing our lives. In Psalm 91 verses 1-3, we read this:
“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in Him I will trust. Surely he shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence.”
In this time of fear, we can turn to God and find a safe refuge in him. We can rest safely under his shadow and we can look to him for deliverance, especially from the pervasive epidemic of fear that holds the world in its grip.
When you look around and see uncertainty and fear raging around you remember to look up in prayer. In God, you will find the hope, peace and certainty that your heart so desperately longs for.