CAMUS’ THE PLAGUE AND THE CHILLS OF COVID-19
By Okofu Ubaka
Beyond a mere academic pursuit, and the capacity to update the literary inclined on the 20th Century Existentialist’s ideology, nothing more than the outbreak of Covid-19 had thrown up the relevance of Albert Camus’ The Plague in recent times. Between 1947 when Camus published La Peste, which was later translated by Stuart Gilbert as The Plague and now, there had never been an outbreak of any pestilence of the magnitude of Covid-19.
As a seer and philosophical chronicler, Camus, through his fictional chronicle, The Plague had alerted the world as far back as 1947 of an impending plague that would shook the entire world to its very foundation. But, power brokers of the world were too busy engaging in economic warfare than seeing Camus’ effort as serious therapy to a sick world.
Metaphorically, The Plague is more on the side of a philosophical prescription than being an allegorical story about a sudden disappearance of rodents and the visitation of a strange fever on the inhabitants of Oran, an old province in Algeria. Presently, the scourge has claimed over 35,000 lives and still counting. In the last two weeks, there had also been reported cases of over 800, 000 people infected worldwide.
Wuhan, the hitherto epicentre of the pandemic shares paternity with the phantasgmagoria Oran. During the epidemic, the entire city of Oran is shut down, following which infected persons are Isolated and quarantined. On the other hand, Wuhan, a Chinese province in far flung Asia responded to the scourge a little longer than expected. The containment, curtailment and confrontation of the epidemic in both provinces albeit real and fictional respectively tell the difference between an ideal and a repugnant materialistic world in the face of a revamped ‘bubonic plague.’ Fictional Oran is circumspect in responding to the plague better than we have seen in Wuhan and other Chinese provinces where the pandemic made stops and claimed lives. In Oran, almost immediately the epidemic is confirmed, a three-pronged therapy of containment, curtailment and confrontation is marshalled by the authorities. The prescription sees to the isolation and quarantining of infected persons, and an eventual lockdown of the entire province. To further close grounds on curtailing the spread of the epidemic, corpses are quarantined and burial supervised. Rail services are suspended, communication restricted and martial laws are called eventually to aid total compliance.
The world, and indeed Wuhan failed to be clinical in implementing the essentially anti-human rules of social distancing and necessary lockdown of its province. While medical doctors in Wuhan were still arguing over the danger of the strange sickness, the virus has taken flight from China and was incubating in almost all the continents of the world with the exception of Antarctica. Besides, economic gains and economic supremacy between economic blocs were among the reasons Wuhan and the rest of the world failed to confront Covid-19 at the earliest stage.
It cannot be impugned that the rest of the world foot dragged in observing complete lockdown because they thought it was a disease by the Chinese and for the Chinese alone. It is not a surprise that Northern Italy, a region of Italy with strong business ties with Wuhan became a hotspot of the disease after the latter. Proximity and rail connectivity also explained why Spain, France and London all have had more than a fair share of the pandemic that is currently ravaging continental Europe. The trains in Europe did not stop running until cases of full blown symptoms of the virus were recorded. By the time countries in Europe and elsewhere decided to enforce lockdowns, it was too late as the virus was already there with them.
Only if the rest of the world had been a little more conscious that what they thought was a Chinese disease might escalate to the point of afflicting the entire world. Only if the rest of the world were supportive in shutting down all business, social and political contacts with China, the virus would have been locked down in Wuhan, and the world saved of the pandemic.
In all of this, it is imperative to note that literature also offers therapy in times of a devastating plague as Covid-19. Rieux, who doubles as both protagonist and chronicler in the text personifies humanity and the resilience of a die-hard existentialist in the face of the worst calamity ever to confront mankind. In the light of the foregoing, we cannot undermine Camus’ absurdist’s philosophy of a cosmic order which has uncharitably sentenced mankind to suffering and death. Speaking in existentialist terms, the lessons of the depersonalized incidence of evil and suffering that Covid-19 holds yet for mankind are emotional, spiritual, physical, social and economic. It is in learning from them that the world has its best chance to get better. But would we?