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At the time of writing this article, the COVID-19 strain of coronavirus has infected more than 158,000 people globally. 155 countries and territories have reported cases of the respiratory sickness, with many – including Italy, Ireland and Norway – closing schools and banning public gatherings in an attempt to slow the coronavirus’ spread1.With the World Health Organization (WHO) having declared the novel pathogen a pandemic, talk of the outbreak is on everybody’s lips.
Scientists attempting to discern the source of the virus have stated that, as coronaviruses usually transmit between animals and people, COVID-19 most likely came from an animal. 2 It is speculated that the first infection may have passed from a bat to patient zero.3
However, as is usual in times of crisis, others have proposed alternative theories as the origin of the deadly pathogen. Some conspiracy theorists have speculated that the virus was engineered and released by a biosafety laboratory located in Wuhan, China. Others have suggested that the pandemic was foretold by a psychic in 2008.
Another alternative theory is that the coronavirus pandemic was prophesied many centuries ago, and is referenced in the Bible.
According to various news outlets, hardline Christians have taken to social media to share claims that the current coronavirus outbreak is linked to passages in the Book of Revelation. 4
“Why are you surprised about the Corona virus# God told you it would happen. Read the Bible.” – Edward P. Harrup (@eharrupj), Twitter
“The Coronavirus has just become biblical. It’s beginning to resemble bible verses from the book of revelation. I’m not a religious guy but I study everything.” – Lorenzo Flavian (@FlavianLorenzo), Twitter
What does the Bible say about the end times?
Literal interpretation of the Bible suggests that the end times will be marked by episodes of plague and destruction.
It is in the final chapters of the Bible, found in the Book of Revelation, that descriptions of the misfortunes that will befall humanity can be found. According to the word of John the Apostle, who wrote the Book of Revelation after supposedly being visited by a white-haired angel5, the terrible events described therein would herald the Second Coming – the return of Jesus Christ Himself.
The apocalypse, it is widely believed, will be triggered by the Lamb of God after the breaking of seven seals.
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In Revelation 6, the Apostle John foresees the arrival of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. They – Pestilence, War, Famine and Death – are described as being “given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth”.6
With the breaking of the sixth seal, a “great earthquake” will be triggered, with the sky turning black and the moon “blood red”.7
How does the Book of Revelation relate to the coronavirus pandemic?
According to the Book of Revelation, one quarter of the world’s population will be killed “by sword, famine and plague” in the end times.
Whilst precise figures relating to the number of those infected with coronavirus are impossible to know (with not every member of a population being able to be tested for the virus), governments and health officials are able to offer estimates. Currently, there have been over 158,000 cases of COVID-19 officially identified. Of these known cases, around 5,800 people have died.
Whilst the mortality rate based on these figures may appear to be extremely high, it is important to remember that not everyone who has the virus will be officially identified. Many people with mild symptoms will not need to go to hospital, and will therefore not be counted amongst those known to have the disease. According to the British epidemiologist and Chief Medical Adviser to the UK Government, Chris Whitty, the actual mortality rate is probably 1% or lower. 8 Given that the worst-case scenario estimates suggest that 80% of the population may become infected, this correlates to 62,400,000 people dying from the virus globally. Although undoubtedly a terrifying projection, 62,400,000 people still only represents 0.8% of the global population, which is much lower than the 25% mentioned in Revelation 6.
However, according to Gerald Flurry, Pastor General of the Philadelphia Church of God and Editor-in-Chief of The Trumpet news magazine, humanity is already in the “preliminary stages” of the horsemen’s ride. He, and those whose opinions he represents, believes that “the coronavirus is only a small part of the overall picture”. Flurry claims that “other plagues” already “spreading in our cities” will add to the overall mortality rate. The “other plagues” which Flurry refers to include tuberculosis, typhoid fever, mumps and even bubonic plague. 9
Whilst there have been cases of tuberculosis in downtown Los Angeles’ notorious “Skid Row” area, as well as reports of bubonic plague from some of the United State’s north-western states including Oregon and Washington10, the number of those affected do not represent anything close to a Biblical Apocalypse. In regards to Los Angeles, twenty-one people died of the highly-contagious hepatitis A during an outbreak in 2017/18.11 The spread of diseases most commonly associated with the developing world, or even medieval times, is certainly concerning, but claiming that this somehow evidences the coming of the end times is exaggerated to say the least.
Diseases have always been part of human society, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
Will the coronavirus pandemic lead to famine?
Another claim by those referencing the Book of Revelation is that the coronavirus pandemic will cause global food shortages, in line with the famine mentioned by John the Apostle.
Once again, Gerald Flurry reminds his readers that the apocalypse is caused by more than just the coronavirus pestilence: famine will also play its part in the deaths of “one third of the populations in America and other Israelitish nations”. 12
“These black horses—violence, famine, pestilence—are going to overtake the Earth! God is beginning to send a number of globe-rattling events our way! He is going to let the world see where their evil ways lead them.” – Gerald Flurry, The Trumpet
How true is the claim? Will a global pandemic cause food shortages which could led to mass starvation?
Certainly, there have been many reports of panic buying. Toilet rolls, hand sanitizer and hand wash are some of the common household items being cleared from shelves in stores around the world. Edibles are likewise being purchased at a higher than average rate, with some supermarkets having to ration the amount of bottled water, pasta, long-life milk and tinned vegetables that their customers are able to buy. 13 It seems that households all over the world are stockpiling essential items out of fear that, as the respiratory disease spreads further, they may not be able to feed themselves in the coming weeks.
With people being told to self-isolate, and even entire countries entering lockdown, it is easy to see why people are concerned about the supply chain being disrupted.
One article, discussing the situation in New York, states that many independent or family-owned grocers are struggling to keep up with consumer demand due to the “unprecedented pressure” being placed on their wholesale suppliers. Such outside wholesalers have limited inventory and must ship their products over long distances to supply many stores. Frenzied purchasing habits caused by coronavirus panic buying are already straining the supply chain. 14
In addition to this, there is a worry that the disease will prevent food being produced in the first place, with people being told to self-isolate and take time off work. Whilst it is important to quarantine those who are infected to help stop the spread of COVID-19, people still need to eat in the meantime.
In many ways it is logical to see why some may fear a famine triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. That said, despite instances of food shortages and warnings of a global recession on the scale of the financial crash of 2008, we are still a long way from the scale of crisis required to lead to famine that would kill one quarter of the world’s population.
According to a spokesperson for the United Kingdom’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), retailers have “well-established contingency plans […] to ensure consumers have the food and supplies they need”. 15
Beyond measures deployed by suppliers, many governments around the world have also made preparations for unforeseen circumstances that may place a strain on supply chains. This includes government stockpiles of strategic resources such as food and medicine.
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In the case of Singapore, efforts are currently being made to diversify the supplies held in the national stockpile.16 The United Kingdom has also been increasing its reserve of essential supplies, motivated by the potential chaos of Brexit. Local councils, for example, have been stockpiling frozen food for emergency use. 17 Switzerland is equally prepared, with a national stockpile that would cover the usual consumption of its entire population for up to six months.18
Worryingly, however, the United States’ Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust (BEHT) was largely dissolved in 2008. At its height, the BEHT strategic grain reserve of commodities and cash could hold up to four million metric tons of wheat, corn, sorghum, and rice. Established in 1980 to protect against famine19, it was decided in 2008 that the remaining commodities held by the trust (about 915,000 metric tons) should be sold as global food prices spiked. Today the trust is solely a cash reserve – a commodity which is not very useful in the case of mass global food shortages.20
Even in the worst case scenario, a system of rationing could be introduced by national governments to prevent starvation. Such a scheme was, after all, utilised during World War Two in the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries, with it not inconceivable that a similar system could be resurrected during another time of emergency, such as a coronavirus pandemic.
Ultimately, however the next few weeks and months progress, an apocalypse on the scale of that which is described in the Book of Revelation is highly unlikely. In history, mankind has faced – and outlived – far worse disasters than that which is threatened by COVID-19.
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