In the times of coronavirus pandemic, the thought assails you often. Is there a superior force other than humankind? Otherwise, what explains this pandemic which has virtually brought the world to its knees.
Now, before you accuse us of undermining scientific temper, we are second to none in upholding reason, the dictum of cause and effect as a foundational pillar of modernity and progress. Human excellence in diverse fields has yielded enormous gains for everyone on Planet Earth. Present generations live better than their ancestors.
There is plenty of food to go around. Yet, as the world has witnessed in the last couple of months, everyone seems to be helpless before this invisible microbe which originated in Wuhan, China, in mid-November last and has since come to torment as many as 180 countries in varying degrees of intensity. More than a million people worldwide are stricken by it while over 70,000 have died. China claims to have lost over 3,500 people, though these figures are highly suspect, and the actual number of deaths is said to be much higher.
Nearly 10,000 people have died in the US, about half of them in its most populous city, New York. Computer modelling of the journey of the virus by domain experts warns of one to two lakh deaths in the next couple of weeks in the US alone. The fatalities in the UK, Italy, France, Spain, etc. are in thousands. And yet there seems to be no thaw in the spread of virus.
Several top functionaries of governments in these states are themselves down with the infection while a large number of hospital staff in these countries have paid with their lives while caring for the victims of the pandemic. On Monday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had to be admitted to a hospital after he had lived with the symptoms of the virus for over ten days in self-isolation at home. Like Trump, Johnson too had initially made light of the threat of the virus, airily claiming that he was still shaking hands with those undergoing treatment for coronavirus.
On Tuesday, the news came that 55-year-old Johnson had to be moved into the ICU and put on oxygen as a precautionary measure, though 10 Downing Street said there was nothing to worry about. It is a measure of the threat the virus has posed that in a rare televised address, Queen Elizabeth II appealed to Britons to keep their spirits up while they fight this pandemic and insisted that Britain would come better out of this once it has been seen off from the British shores.
Significantly, this was only the fourth time since her ascension to the throne in 1952 that the British monarch had addressed the nation. Clearly, along with the rest of the world, Britons too are shaken by this invisible enemy which cannot be defeated by the traditional armies and limitless stockpiles of nuclear bombs but requires a rather simple resort to proper personal hygiene and clean air besides complete rest in isolated conditions.
Meanwhile, the ever bumptious Trump may insist that in the old malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, he has found a counter to COVID-19, though his own scientific adviser and other experts insist it is no gamechanger as the President would like to make it. India is one of the biggest producers and exporters of this drug and would have happily used it itself had its efficacy in treating the virus been tested and proved beyond a reasonable doubt. It is a shot in the dark.
But if Trump, desperate to end the coronavirus narrative in the US with any eye on his re-election later this year and fearing that a longer economic hit could scupper his chances of a second term, has been harping on hydroxychloroquine as a panacea. On Monday, the Indian Government relaxed the temporary ban on its export in order to fulfil Trump’s desire to play the doctor-at-large in a bid to stop the coronavirus spread in its tracks. Typically, Trump was undiplomatic and curt while warning that if India did not give him the drug he desperately sought, he would twist its arm.
This is not how leaders of supposedly friendly countries conduct bilateral business. But, then, to expect anything better from Trump is to be ignorant about his lack of basic civility and manners. He is probably one of the cruder politicians to have been elected the President of the most powerful nation in the world. Should he get another four years in the White House, the US would stand to forfeit that singular position to China which is fast creeping up on it every which way.