The recent coronavirus outbreak and a historic swarm of locusts are drawing comparisons to plagues of biblical proportions — or the possibility of retribution from Mother Nature.
Desert locusts have been decimating crops in different regions of the world including an already vulnerable region of East Africa, putting an estimated 20.2 million people at risk for acute food insecurity.
Now China, already reeling from the coronavirus outbreak, could face a desert locust invasion, the government warned on Monday. Local Chinese authorities have been ordered to prepare for the possible arrival of the hungry insects from neighboring Pakistan and India.
A “wet market” in Wuhan, China, is blamed as the probable source of the coronavirus outbreak that’s spreading around the globe like wildfire. The coronavirus has killed more than 3,000 people, the vast majority in mainland China. There are now more than 88,000 cases globally, and infections on every continent except Antarctica.
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Patients who got sick from coronavirus Covid-19 at the end of December all had connections to the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan. Stalls there sell live fish, exotic wild animals such as wolf pups and koala bears, and meat from wild animals. Researchers believe the new virus probably mutated from a coronavirus common in animals and jumped to humans in the Wuhan bazaar, NPR reported.
China banned live animal sales in Wuhan after the food market selling civet cats, otters and other wild animals was linked to the outbreak. These types of markets selling wild animals for food are popular around China. Such markets exist in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, and Shandong Province, Business Insider reported.
Locusts swarms appear in the Old Testament, especially in Exodus, where Moses asks God to send a plague to Egypt. A headline in the Jerusalem Post reads, “Bible coming to life?” Jews were enslaved in Egypt thousands of years ago, according to the Old Testament. To this day, Jews around the world remember on the Passover holiday the historic locust plague, one of 10 sent as punishment to Pharoah for failing to keep his promises to let the Jewish people go. The other 10 plagues were: water turning to blood, frogs, lice, flies, livestock pestilence, boils, hail, darkness and the killing of firstborn children.
Locusts are also mentioned in the Quran and the New Testament. In Revelation 9:3, aggressive swarms are described that sting like scorpions.
Climate change may be to blame for the locusts, according to National Geographic. Climate change has tipped the scales in favor of circulation patterns that set the stage weather-related disasters. Rising sea surface temperatures have supercharged hurricanes that produce exceptionally wet weather globally. Desert locusts thrive after heavy rain triggers vegetation growth across their normally dry habitats in Africa and the Middle East.
“If we see this continued increase in the frequency of cyclones, I think we can assume there will be more locust outbreaks and upsurges,” said Keith Cressman, senior locust forecasting officer with the Food and Agriculture Organization.
A square mile of swarming locusts can eat as much food in a day as 90,000 people. In East Africa, the insects have been devouring maize, sorghum, cowpeas, and vegetation that cattle graze on, Daily Beast reported.
Some of the East African swarms migrated north to Egypt. Most swarms crossed the Red Sea and moved to Western Asia, devouring their way through Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, Pakistan and India in early January and laying more eggs along the way. What makes this swarm unusual is that swarms typically dissipate by October when the winter months begin, Daily Beast reported. In February, they were still going strong.
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Chinese communities have been targeted by boycotts, threats, and even violent attacks over coronavirus, Quartz reported. Prejudice against Chinese communities is a global problem. In the U.S., some residents are avoiding restaurants in the Chinatowns of major cities.
In Italy, hysteria and discrimination over coronavirus have been compared to the black death. In the mid-14th century, Europeans accused Jews of spreading plagues to try and kill all Christians in Europe.
The Italian government has quarantined 11 towns, closed schools, canceled football games, and told citizens to stay home. Frantic citizens have emptied grocery stores as they prepare for the worst.