Assalamualaikum ustaz. Hope for an explanation as to whether COVID-19 can indeed be categorized the same as the plague?
Alhamdulillah, praise and gratitude to Allah SWT for His countless blessings for us all. Praise and salutations to our beloved Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his family, companions and all those who follow his footsteps until the Last Day.
What is the Plague?
According to Malaysia’s Ministry of Health MyHEALTH portal, the plague or cholera is one of the major water and foodborne diseases. It is caused by a bacterial infection. Those who are infected will experience diarrhea. Severe symptoms can be fatal due to severe dehydration.
Cholera is more likely to spread in areas that do not have a clean water supply and adequate toilet facilities. Cholera outbreaks also seasonally in endemic areas of Asia and Africa.
The causative agent of this disease is the Vibrio cholerae bacteria. While the mode of infection is through the intake of food or water contaminated with feces or vomit of an infected person. The incubation period lasts for several hours to 5 days. Usually, it takes 2 to 3 days.
Regarding the signs and symptoms, it is explained that most infections are asymptomatic. Mild cases only experience diarrhea with no other symptoms. Severe cases experience severe diarrhea with nausea and vomiting and can cause severe dehydration. For untreated cases, severe dehydration can lead to acidosis, circulatory disorders and kidney failure. Death can occur due to these complications. 
Frequent outbreaks of cholera can affect trade activities both locally and internationally. The high number of deaths led to a reduction in manpower and food supply as well as an increase in the price of goods. 
Hadiths Related to the Plague
Abu Hurairah RA narrated that the Messenger PBUH said:
الشُّهَداءُ خَمْسَةٌ: المَطْعُونُ، والمَبْطُونُ، والغَرِيقُ، وصاحِبُ الهَدْمِ، والشَّهِيدُ في سَبيلِ اللَّهِ
“There are five types of martyrs: one who dies of plague, one who dies of an internal complaint, one who is drowned, one who is killed by his house falling on him, and the martyr in God’s path.” 
In another narration, the Prophet PBUH said:
مَن قُتِلَ في سَبيلِ اللهِ فَهو شَهِيدٌ، ومَن ماتَ في سَبيلِ اللهِ فَهو شَهِيدٌ، ومَن ماتَ في الطَّاعُونِ فَهو شَهِيدٌ، ومَن ماتَ في البَطْنِ فَهو شَهِيدٌ
“The martyrs among my people would then be few. He who is killed in God’s path is a martyr, he who dies in God’s path is a martyr, he who dies of plague is a martyr, and he who dies of a disease in the belly is a martyr.” 
In a hadith narrated from Anas bin Malik RA, Rasullullah PBUH said:
الطّاعُونُ شَهادَةٌ لِكُلِّ مُسْلِمٍ
“Every Muslim who dies of plague is credited with martyrdom.” 
Imam al-Nawawi stated that all of these types of death is considered as a martyr due to favour granted by Allah SWT (for them) for the severe pain and suffering they experienced of their death. 
Is It Permissible for COVID-19 To Be Categorized the Same as the Plague?
In answering this issue, here we share several definitions of the plague as stated by the lughah (language – linguists or terminologists) scholars. Among them are:
- Al-Jauhari stated that the plague refers to death that affects the general public similar to an epidemic.
- Syeikh Ibrahim al-Harbi in the book Gharib al-Hadith said: An epidemic is the plague and also a disease that affects the general public.
- Ibn a;-‘Arabi stated Syarah al-Tirmizi: It is named as the plague for it is a calamity which affects the general public rapidly and leads to death. Hence, any disease which has the same characteristics to it is included as it (plague). 
As it is generally known, COVID-19 is a virus that is spread rapidly and lead to infectious disease that could lead to large scale death. Thus, according to these characteristics, then it can be considered the same as the plague as stated in sahih narrations. Wallahu a’lam.