Whether Covid-19 is a naturally occurring virus or whether as some claim (unconvincingly, so far) it is a bioweapon, in my opinion its spread is the result of free will . If it is naturally occurring, then it was human actions that led to its migration from animals to humans. We know that some viruses can do this and we have had previous experience with ones (e.g. SARS) that have created far less havoc . By the same measure this one could be seen to be a dry run for worse epidemics to come, that too is eminently predictable [2,17].
A theist could argue that the 2003 SARS outbreak was a warning. SARS showed us that the consumption of certain animals and/or their close proximity to humans can be dangerous. The death toll was relatively low but the message was clear. The fact that people still pursued lifestyles that could lead to such transmission is an expression of their free will. They are exercising their right to pursue cultural practices (eating haram wild animals) while ignoring science . Similarly this is not the last virus that we will face, no doubt there will be another one along at some point which will be deadlier and more difficult to contain. If the lessons from this one are not learnt then the number of dead with the next one will be even higher. That is not the result of God being unjust, it is the result of various human injustices, the socio-economic dimension of the current outbreak has been observed I.e. the poor are much more likely to die than people who are better off , but such observations are rare because that would challenge the existing order.
Taking informed personal control
But just as people can blame people in other nations and cultures for their own demise, so we are now facing the tests for our own understanding of risk and willingness to change established behaviours. Two weeks prior to my writing this the Western press was full of stories about how religious Iranians were responsible for helping spread the virus . Those gloating articles  have now been replaced by those which are lamenting the behaviour of people in the West and the slow behaviour of western governments.
How the virus transmits, what counts as risky behaviour and what does not is all information that is available and has been for some time now. Some people may choose not to observe nature, they may choose to ignore science and they may choose to live lives as they have always done but they cannot escape reality. And that goes for people who are visiting shrines when they should not as much as those who go to restaurants or evangelical churches .
Inequality and viral transmission
There are those who are unable to comply with the scientific advice because of the constraints of their employment, those who get paid by the hour and nothing if they don't work are in a very invidious position. If they carry on working who is to blame? In that situation I think the rest of us carry some responsibility for having elected political leaders who have created economic systems that allow such practices to exist. But luckily and perhaps something that may offer us some redemption in some countries at least even the most economically liberal people are recognising the need to be more communitarian with for example, people who are renting being able to stay in their apartments even if they do not pay their rent .
Singapore stands out as a country with an exemplary record in containing Covid-19, but their Achilles heel? The relatively poor care they take of Indian migrant workers and it's been the accommodation such people are offered that has been a more recent cause for concern . The solution has been to 'improve' housing conditions and people recognise that having dozens of workers sharing the same toilets or men living 12 to a room is ideal for viral transmission, the inequality will need to be addressed in order to reduce the transmission of the disease and thereby protect those who are better off.
Incidentally the Singapore example is also worth remembering for all those occasions where people woe the fact that their country is not more like Singapore (I know Pakistanis like doing this). Singapore is one of those countries that enjoys a very favourable international press, and if you are a tourist it is indeed paradise. But it stays that way because of a large underbelly of South Indian manual workers and Malaysians commuting from Johor. There are also other countries (a number ex-British colonies), with similar labour models and all will have problems when you have a disease that spreads more easily where people are being treated unequally.
The Singaporean situation stands in contrast to the Indian state of Kerala whose Covid-19 figures are exemplary, why? Because socialist governments have clamped down on inequality . They may not have the best medical facilities in the world, but good socio-economics have helped them to cope better than richer and better equipped countries. There is a similar story in Vietnam, a country that has learnt not to put economic gain at the very top of the national agenda was able to take strong pre-emptive action and has suffered only a few hundred deaths, despite having a long border with China , almost counter-intuitively such emphasis on health may allow such regions to resume economic activity more quickly than those places which were to put it bluntly 'greedy'.
Another interesting contrast and a model of good practice that had been identified by mid-June 2020 was the city of New Orleans (see chart below) . It managed to change what initially seemed an even worse trajectory than New York by introducing high levels of testing undertaken in locations that made it easy for people, particularly the poor to be tested and even gave them goody bag incentives in order to do so.
There is another way to look at this. The information was always out there, regardless of claims with hindsight that the Chinese hid the scale of the situation. Some countries (poor ones) acted on it and some (amongst the richest) did not. Possible reasons for the difference? Wealth itself blinkered the vision of decision-makers. A rich country simply has too much to lose if it locks down, despite the fact that it can afford to do so if it wanted to. It's analogous in my opinion to the reason why often it is small companies that innovate and larger ones don't. The latter have too much invested in the status quo.
Economic solutions for medical problems
Those of us who believe in a forgiving and generous God understand that viruses and other diseases are part of the ecosystem in which we live. How we deal with them is, to a large degree, up to us. And to that end it is interesting to note how various commentators are recognising that economic systems that are built on the adoration of the individualistic entrepreneur can be ill-fitted to dealing with such situations, which invariably require self-sacrifice for the social good and where problems are exacerbated when people act selfishly. There are now Twitter campaigns singling out pharmacies that have over-charged for medicines. There are loud complaints about billionaires whose businesses are being baled out with taxpayers' money . Societies that have maintained at least some ability to self-reflect will recognise that although this is a virus the solutions are not going to be wholly medical, they will have to have an economic and social dimension and the latter will involve following precepts embodied in religious texts. Comparisons have been drawn with WWII about how such calamities make societies more social .
Whatever the defences people make of the United States healthcare system the fact remains that in order to deal with this virus at least, the system cannot cope with existing payment practices . While the uninsured can go untreated for various other illnesses, they can't be left to their own devices when the result of non-treatment will be an even worse epidemic. Viruses reinforce religious precepts of charity, seeking knowledge and looking after others.
Beliefs, behaviours and survival
Viruses are not kind to those people who believe in blind faith  or who feel they can carry on partying . Viruses are not kind to those people who believe in quack cures . Viruses don't care about economic, political, social or religious ideology. Viruses present us with a reality and it is up to us whether we accept it, accommodate it into our worldview and live or challenge it and die. Those people protesting at the Michigan capital about 'liberty' may be making a political point , but the virus does not care about liberty and it is certainly not intimidated by the fact that they are carrying AR15 rifles.
This virus, at least from what we know has a clear basis for prevention - social distance, and better still self-isolation . Respecting its transmission is in my opinion respecting nature and the laws of God. The ability to perceive the reality of the situation is essential and something whose importance we've previously discussed . Given the Islamic imperative on preserving life both one's own and that of others - following these rules becomes a must. To that extent we are empowered and God has given us hope and His mercy. This is no apocalypse waiting to happen, it always could be averted, there have been enough warnings over the past several months to encourage those who are willing to listen and prepare.
Hope for people
As a result of the outbreak science is attempting to catch-up and there will likely be a solution. There always is. Again theists and Muslims in particular have their beliefs to give hope in this specific regard. Hope manifests itself at two levels, there is what society can do as it manages and comes out of lockdown and there is what we can do as individuals. At a societal level questions are beginning to be asked about whether lifestyles that we had taken for granted are necessary, do people have to travel long distances to work, when teleworking is possible? Now that people are no longer taking flights were they essential in the first place or should some airlines be allowed to go bust? Of course this is going to cause tremendous upheaval, unemployment and social costs but for those of us who believe in man made climate change, this is a heaven sent opportunity to make the radical changes that would otherwise have been economically unthinkable and perhaps avoid much larger social and economic devastation if we had continued with the same business models as before.
Hope for the individual
In the meantime we are locked down to varying degrees depending on where we are in the world. Some of us may be locked down, but saving time commuting as we work from home others may have no other choice but to stay at home and wait it out.
The lockdown as I see it is an opportunity. Our daily lives can be an impediment to religious study with more material concerns taking precedence. Lockdown can be seen as a heaven sent opportunity to refocus, while at the same time having the impetus of seeing at first hand the proximity of death.
This is the time when we can
- Re-open the books that may have not be read for some time.
- Remember the prayers for which people may ordinarily feel they do not have the time
- Revisit al-Islam.org and access the resources they have available
- Sign-up to online Islamic courses
For all the occasions where people are led astray by having haram easy to access, its misperceived benefits available in abundance, death seemingly improbable, unlikely and far away and the ability to choose the right path made more difficult by these impediments - the virus and its social and behavioural implications is a reset that loads the dice in the favour of those who are inclined towards the right path. Death is nearer, it is entirely possible and we have the time and the resources to prepare for it. Over the course of human existence, this is a luxury that few people have had.