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History repeats itself

March 24, 2020 - Tuesday 4:03 AM by Jimmy Laking

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In August of 1527 the German city of Wittenberg (now described as a university town) witnessed the onslaught of the bubonic plague that led to the death of many.

Many citizens fled for their lives. One German pastor named Dr. Johann Hess was clueless on what to do. So he wrote Martin Luther, the leader of the reformation movement, on “whether one may flee from the deadly plague.” Luther, who was among those who chose to stay and who chose to administer to the sick, wrote back a letter to Hess whose message was grounded on both hope and action.

The Rev. James Cerdenola shared that the message was read at the Baguio City-based Lutheran Seminary on Wednesday.

Luther’s message:

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

Translated into today’s reality, the letter advised self-quarantine and social distancing as well as care-giving. It clearly counseled administering to those struck by the plague.

It can be said that in addressing the COVID-19 threat, China took the message to heart. The European countries have also taken the same route as well as the Philippines. In the Philippines it is called enhanced community quarantine, with Metro Manila and the rest of the regions, including the Davao region, under lockdown.

It is hoped that by containing the population and by preventing movement of people, the virus will be defeated. What Luther described as “avoiding places where my presence is not needed in order not to be contaminated” is now called social distancing.

In its latest entry, the Merriam Webster dictionary defined social distancing in its modern use as “the avoidance of close contact with other people during the outbreak of a contagious disease in order to minimize exposure and reduce the transmission of infection.”

The dictionary added that “community spread” has the specific meaning of “the spread of a contagious disease to individuals in particular geographic location who have no known contact with other infected individuals or who have not recently traveled to an area where the disease has documented cases.”

It defined “contact tracing” as the practice of identifying and monitoring individuals who may have had contact with an infectious person as a means of controlling the spread of a communicable disease.”

To self-quarantine, it added, is “to refrain from any contact with other individuals for a period of time (as two weeks) during the outbreak of a contagious disease usually by remaining in one’s home and limiting contact with family members.”