Four footballers have been placed on suicide watch as the coronavirus crisis continues to wreak havoc across the world. With many nations in lockdown, there are fears that many people’s mental health may suffer as a result of the financial insecurity and lack of structure that the COVID-19 outbreak has caused.
There are three broad strategies that have emerged in how countries have dealt with the COVID-19 outbreak.
First is the herd immunity approach. Let the disease burn through the population while attempting to protect the vulnerable from increased risk of exposure.
Second is the lockdown method. Severely restrict people’s movements and attempt to confine people in their homes and thus starve the normal interactions that would allow the virus to spread within the society.
Third is wide testing of all suspected cases and then isolate and contact-trace all those infected and those whom they could have infected. The basic idea is to identify anyone with potential COVID-19 symptoms, even mild ones. Test them to confirm the infection and then trace all their possible contacts. Isolate those contacts and test to see if they have the infection.
All three strategies have some rationale as well as trade-offs. The herd immunity approach may well help build immunity in the long term and allow societies to continue to function (at least in the short term) but it poses a significant risk to vulnerable members of the society. It could easily lead to mass infections and hospitalisations that lead to overwhelming the health services and thus greater mortality rates.
As for the complete lockdown method, this has massive implications on the economy and therefore the lives of everyone within society. It can be effective, if we believe the figures coming out of China, but needs to be implemented very early on and has to be total in its application. However, the long-term impact on people’s lives can be quite devastating. Loss of income, businesses and potential devastation to people’s lives (even some unintended deaths).
As for the third method which has been implemented in places such as South Korea, Singapore and Japan: it has allowed normal day to day businesses and lives to continue for the vast majority of healthy people within society. Schools remain open, restaurants, shops and even places of worship. It’s been shown to have dramatically slowed the infection rates and even reversed them in some countries. It allows greater targeting of care for the vulnerable and thus better medical treatment and outcomes (and lower mortality rates).
The main prerequisite for this approach is that it requires good societal infrastructure. Countries like Singapore and South Korea developed these strategies due to their experiences with SARS and even MERS. It meant they were able to act fast, locate people who even shared taxi journeys with infected drivers as well as people who were at the same restaurants with them who ate there.
These nations used mobile phone data to track individuals, ATM usage, CCTV and general announcements for residents to check for themselves. Together with wide testing they quickly located and isolated suspected cases and thus prevented any further infections or significantly slowed it down while not impacting wider society. Current evidence, therefore, shows that the best way to deal with an outbreak like this is the third strategy.
As such from an Islamic perspective you would not need to close down mosques or jummah salah while being extremely effective in stopping any further spread. But this would require an effective system of governance and leadership that’s competent – has strategies and processes already put into place and the ability to properly enforce this in society for the good of the people.
The lockdown approach in places such as Iran, Pakistan and the Arab countries will cause much-unintended harm as many people live from day-to-day and this approach is unsustainable for the long term with many people likely to lose their lives due to their inability to fulfil their basic needs and access essential services.
Here lies the problem in the Muslim world. There’s no leadership, there’s no effective system in place, there’s no rule of law for all, there are no binding values that unify the people behind their leadership such that they trust and follow them. There’s little to no investment in healthcare infrastructure. Rulers rule to achieve their interests, they monitor individuals only to spy on them so as to silence or prevent any threat against their leadership.
What we then see is rulers in the Muslim world simply copying the stance of the West. When the west ran out of strategies to contain the virus, they simply went into lockdown and thus the Muslims lacking any insight, leadership or independent thinking, simply followed like sheep what was being done in the West.
Effective strategies come through proper effective leadership built on a clear viewpoint on life, i.e. Islam. Without this, you’ll just have sheep-like following of the West while having little real concern for citizens and inability to develop innovative, creative ways to deal with problems like the coronavirus.
That is where the need for an intellectual revival is required to think in creative ways built upon Islamic values. This creativity though needs a mechanism to bring it about and that’s where we need real Islamic leadership i.e. the Khilafah state. Hence, in the past the Muslims with their Islamic state were able to innovate new solutions to problems: calculations of taxes and inheritance laws through developing algebra, or the compilation of the Quran at the initiation of Khalifah Abu Bakr (ra) as well as numerous other examples where Muslims innovated and created means to look after people’s affairs. This innovation was inspired and directed by the belief in Islam and that’s something we need to return back to.