The novel corona virus strain that made its debut in the Chinese city of Wuhan, stylistically named COVID-19, has scared the s— out of the human race like few other things in living memory. It has led to the quarantining of many people, closure of cities, mass closure of schools and factories, grounding of tens of thousands of flights, disruption of industrial supply chains and marketing outlets, closing of airports, suspending congregational prayer, closing of Islam’s holiest mosque and invention of online church service.
Let us say that COVID-19 is the first person singular. In terms of calamitous potential, who are its kith and kin? The late Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein indicated to the world that mother is the most important of all blood relatives. In January 1991 when the American-led coalition of 40 nations attacked Iraqi troops that occupied Kuwait, Saddam fired the world’s poetic imagination when he declared that “the mother of all battles has begun.” Who are Corona virus’ mother, father and other kinsmen?
The nephew of COVID-19 is a calamitous plane crash, such as happened on March 27, 1977 when two Boeing 747 passenger jets, belonging to KLM and Pan American, collided on an airport runway at Tenerife. 583 people died in the crash, the single deadliest in aviation history. Then there was Japan Airlines Flight 123, which crashed on August 12, 1985 due to decompression minutes after it departed from Tokyo. All 15 crew members and 505 of the 509 passengers on board died, the deadliest single-aircraft accident in aviation history.
The niece of COVID-19 is shipwreck, especially oil tanker accident which results in oil spills. In 1978, the super tanker Amoco Cadiz hit a rock off France’s Brittany coast. It split in two and sank, spilling 1.6 million barrels into the sea. This was far less than the 8 million barrels of oil that spilled into the Persian Gulf when retreating Iraqi troops opened the valves of Kuwaiti oil wells during the First Gulf War in 1991. There was also the case in April 2010 when the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico. It spilled 140 million gallons of oil. In sheer historic notoriety, no shipwreck could match the British passenger liner HMS Titanic, which hit an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic Sea on April 15, 1912. 1500 of the estimated 2,224 passengers and crew on the ship died, many of them after jumping into the icy water.
The cousin of COVID-19 is gas poisoning, such as happened in the Indian city of Bhopal in December 1984 when methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a Union Carbide pesticide plant. It killed 3,787 people and injured more than half a million others. The grandfather of COVID-19 is super typhoon, such as Typhoon Haiyan, which hit South East Asia, particularly Philippines in 2013. It was the deadliest typhoon on record; it killed 6,300 people, with 1,000 missing and caused property damage worth three billion US dollars.
The grandmother of COVID-19 is hurricane, such as the Category 5 Hurricane Andrew that struck The Bahamas and Florida in August 1992. This extremely destructive hurricane was however overtaken by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which virtually destroyed the US city of New Orleans. Hurricane Irma of 2017 however exceeded them in property damage.
The uncle of COVID-19 is volcanic eruption, the deadliest ever being Mount Tambora of Indonesia which erupted in 1815, killing an estimated 250,000 people. It blighted the summer and caused widespread famine in the Northern Hemisphere. Its second was Mount Krakatoa, also in Indonesia, which erupted in 1883 and killed 36,000 people. Laki and Grimsvotn volcanoes, which erupted in Iceland in 1783, wiped out 10% of the country’s population, 80% of its sheep, 50% of its cattle and 50% of the country’s horses.
The aunty of COVID-19 is earthquake, such as the one in Armenia in 1984 and the many others that occurred in Nepal, in central China, in Turkey, Iran, in California and regularly in Japan, Taiwan and Korea. The sister of COVID-19 is a nuclear accident, such as the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in April 1986. Its Number 4 nuclear reactor melted in the single worst nuclear accident in history. Forty two people died in the aftermath, though thousands of others may have died since then from radiation illnesses. Second to Chernobyl was the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan in March 2011, caused by an offshore earthquake and tsunami that melted the reactor’s cooling system. People were evacuated from the surrounding prefectures.
The brother of COVID-19 is tsunami, one of the most frightening of all natural disasters where millions of tons of seawater pour into coastal areas and cities. The December 24, 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, triggered by an undersea megathrust earthquake in the Pacific Ocean, generated ocean waves up to 30 metres high from Indonesia westwards all the way to East Africa. Worst affected were Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India. 227,898 people in 14 countries were killed and property damage was estimated at $15 billion.
The closest friend and wedding best man of COVID-19 is bubonic plague, characterized by fever, headaches, vomiting and swollen lymph nodes. It is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which is spread by fleas when they bite infected rats, then bite humans. This plague caused the Black Death that swept through Asia, Europe and Africa in the 14th century and killed an estimated 50 million people. It wiped out between 25% and 60% of the population of Europe at the time and killed one quarter of London’s population in 1665-66.
The stepmother of COVID-19 is fire, such as the great fire of London of 1666. It swept through central London, destroyed 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, St Paul’s Cathedral and many city buildings. 80% of London’s 80,000 inhabitants at the time lost their homes in the fire, which however helped to bring the then raging bubonic plague to an end. Only a few people died, however.
Melting Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets promise to be the wife of COVID-19. It is caused by global warming, which in turn is caused by carbon emissions from factories and engines. Scientists say that unless we seriously curb global warming, melting ice could cause a 1.5 metres rise in sea levels by 2100. If that happens, whole coastal areas and huge cities such as New York, Tokyo, Los Angeles and Lagos could end up under the sea.
The father of COVID-19 is an asteroid strike. Earth has often been hit by asteroids and meteorites; the evidence is craters all over the earth’s surface. Sometimes we encounter near misses, such as the asteroid DA14 in 2012. Among the biggest hits was the asteroid that created South Africa’s 190 kms-wide Vredefort Crater two billion years ago. Before you say that was a long time ago, there was the asteroid that hit earth 65 million years ago, created the Chicxulub crater in Mexico and was thought to be responsible for the extinction of dinosaurs because it blotted out all sunlight for many months. As recently as 1918, a huge meteorite landed in Siberia, so we are still not safe.
Finally, the mother of COVID-19 is all-out nuclear war. The world’s nuke arsenal has declined from 70,000 warheads at the height of the Cold War to an estimated 14,000 today. Russia and USA have more than 6,000 each; France 300; China 290; UK 215; Pakistan 150; India 140; Israel 80 and North Korea 25. In the event of all-out war, millions of people will die from nuke blasts, followed by fire and radiation illnesses. Smoke and dust will blot out the sun for six months, killing all crops and trees. One Doomsday scientist estimated that if all the nukes explode at the same time, force of the blast will throw the earth out of its orbit. We will sail into space and collide with another planet.