A pandemic can be a threat to humankind. As for the macabre dance of(SARS-CoV-2) across the globe, it’s also throwing up a lot of material to reflect on, holding up a mirror to who we really are, as well as teachable moments in leadership, sacrifice, arrogance, human frailty and abounding, harmful stupidity.
I’m thinking about the entitled folks who returned from Italy and, when taken to an army quarantine facility in Manesar, protested that material comforts were inadequate. When told the facility complied with protocols and this was going to be it, they made an offer they thought nobody would refuse: We can pay.
They did not pause to think what such an offer would mean back in Italy, which went from 322 cases to 12,462 in about two weeks. Faced with a “tsunami” of incoming patients, overwhelmed doctors and healthcare workers must resort to a warlike medical triage system — they have to decide who among their patients gets a shot at life. An account from Lombardy describes heartrending scenes — hospital corridors filled with patients with acute distress, a clogged system unable to help people literally gasping for breath. Money is futile if you are the first patient to come in after all the emergency beds are taken.
Shocking instances of civic negligence are reported from across India — patients running away from quarantine, attendants who discharged a patient against medical advice and took him to multiple private hospitals, folks concealing their travel history for fear of extended stay in a government hospital. They are probably unaware of the gravity of their actions. South Korea, which did very well in controlling the outbreak early on, was brought to its knees by one individual who ignored the doctor’s advice. A so-called superspreader, Patient 31 travelled widely, coming into contact with over 1,000 people since being advised to get herself tested.
Such behaviour jars against the sacrifice of the medical staff who are working to exhaustion around the world, reminded of their vulnerability by colleagues periodically succumbing to the disease.
The virus is proving to be a terrible inconvenience by disregarding well-established human boundaries of wealth and social class. It is also showing a knack for grounding arrogance. NBA player Rudy Gobert tested positive days after making a joke of touching reporters’ microphones. He must have felt invincible, which is easy when you are a sports star used to a $100 million salary contract. Coronavirus rolled its non-existent eye.
Australia’s home minister and stridently anti-immigrant politician Peter Dutton has tested positive, and will presumably be looked after well by immigrant nurses.
US President, who dismissed the concern over the virus as a hoax by the Democrats during a recent campaign rally, and his guest at Mar-a-Lago last weekend,counterpart Jair Bolsonaro, who said the virus was a fantasy, have both been jolted after the latter’s press secretary, present at the summit, tested positive. Brazil’s ambassador in Washington, who sat at Trump’s table at dinner, has also tested positive, and so hasmayor Francis Suarez, who met the Brazilian delegation separately.
Rather sneaky of the virus to have got to sniffing distance of the world’s most powerful man within weeks of departing the national boundaries of.
In England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has taken an enormous risk by following a markedly different strategy from every other country, following the advice of chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance, who is a proponent of the idea of herd immunity. Other countries are working on the idea of “flattening the curve”, meaning slowing the spread of infection so that the public health systems are not overwhelmed. England is going to let the cases soar as it wants the population to develop immunity to the virus. The country believes this is the only lasting solution because while social distancing and lockdowns will slow down the spread of the virus, it can spread again when the restrictions are lifted.
Constraints on economic growth must also be playing on the minds of UK’s leaders. There is a real risk that lower economic growth due to reduced activity will bring greater misery to people’s lives than the virus itself. That’s something for all leaders to keep in mind, especially in poorer nations where daily wagers and those on the margins will suffer when economic activity is frozen.
Nonetheless, UK’s strategy hinges on being able to manage the peaks of the epidemic — make sufficient intensive care beds available for those who need it. Once you run out of beds, bodies will start piling up. It could also end up being a terribly discriminatory policy as the virus’s morbidity is disproportionately high in those above 60 years. Some virologists have contested the herd immunity theory, saying there’s little evidence that people develop sustained immunity to the coronavirus family. Depending on the outcomes, Johnson will either be damned as a killer or hailed as a genius who saw what no other country could. It’s a leadership test with potentially thousands of lives at stake.
The march of the virus is also bringing stories of hope, cheer and wonder. If you haven’t, you must watch (on) the videos of Chinese drones enforcing the lockdown in Wuhan. The drones swoop down on people who are out and about, and an operator, unseen to the person, scolds them through the machine’s speakers. “Why are you not wearing a mask? Go back home!” it chides an astonished little kid, who promptly turns around and scampers home.
It has brought heartening evidence of state capacity, as states like Kerala and Karnataka have started publishing detailed route maps of infected individuals. In Kerala, state workers are delivering midday meals home to anganwadi children. From the same state has emerged the story of a shop that has sold 5,000 masks for Rs 2 each, after procuring them for Rs 10. A video from Italy, showing people in a locked down neighbourhood together singing Sicilian songs from their balconies, is a tribute to human resilience.
The virus has also reminded us of our collective frailty. Who could, after-all, have fathomed that in 2020, the year from science fiction that was supposed to be about flying cars, uploading our brains to the cloud and nudging immortality, we would instead see supermarket riots over toilet paper?