By Rahul Puri
The human race, which can fly to the moon, convert sunlight into power, build engines that can fly across the globe and robots so smart they may eventually take over at some point, has been entirely shut down by the most oldest life-form on the planet. There is something strangely ironic about that.
Now before you worry about this being some kind of ‘green’ rant about how human beings are destroying the Earth it is not but it’s hard to miss the humour here.
We perceive ourselves to be this unyielding force of nature, destined to rule the planet till who knows when and suddenly like a young kid sucker-punching the school bully in the playground, along comes Mother Nature to stop us in our tracks (albeit temporarily). I am not a doomsday-monger suggesting that the Corona outbreak is linked to the harm we are doing to the Earth but I do believe that if you push something to the brink, eventually, it hits back.
This could be just that. Or it could be something totally random. We have seen outbreaks before - Mad Cow Disease, Ebola, SARS, Bird Flu - heck AIDS in the 80s was called an epidemic for a while there. I am no way qualified to tell you where and how these viruses emerged and whether it was to do with human meddling but humanity has seen things like Corona before and eventually, we will get through this. Indeed - we manage to do much more harm to ourselves in this period that the virus will ever do. The news media are particularly incompetent here - presenting either hysterical dystopian futures or being completely oblivious to the danger and calling it an ‘over-reaction’. Whichever line they chose to adopt, both are sensationalist, scandalous and completely unethical in the middle of such a crisis. And it is a crisis. The infection rate for COVID-19 is faster and higher than most of the viruses I mentioned above and even if the mortality rate is relatively lower, that still means in absolute terms, many many will die if we do not act. Already there are over 13,000 dead and the next few weeks and our reaction to them will play a huge part in whether that doubles or quadruples. Passing this virus off because its mortality rate is around 3% (10% for SARS and Ebola) is criminally missing the point. And there are a lot of people out there doing just that - missing the point spectacularly. Governments around the world are locking down their citizens. No - not in just in Totalitarian states like China but in some of the worlds major democracies like Italy and Spain and even the biggest ones - USA and India have placed large restrictions on people like enforcing work from home, shutting down entertainment areas and cancelling mass gatherings.
Overreaction? Maybe. Necessary? Absolutely. The only way to defeat an infectious disease is not to feed it with people to infect. It’s like those match stick memes flying around social media - move one out of the way and that ‘social distancing’ - will ensure the rest of the matches don’t burn into husks. We could quibble about the extent some governments have gone to and no doubt when this crisis is over, many will be counting the cost of it all, but right now, the best thing to do is to over-react and then worry about the consequences later. The repercussions of not doing so could mean that 50 - 100 thousand people do not die of a virus that has shown its ability to spread faster than those wild-fires in Australia last winter. Social media is everyone’s preferred point of information - as it is with everything these days and as per usual - social media is doing a dreadful job at updating people with the truth. Hoaxes, Trolls, Religious zealots and worse are flying around being passed off as the truth and it is those most at risk - the elderly - who cannot differentiate this medium well enough to tell reality from fraud. It is driving us to absolute lunacy where toilet roll has produced mass brawls in Australia and gun sale in America have jumped sharply as people get worried about the end of the world. Clearly listening to social media and crazed, senseless sensationalists, who masquerade as journalists these days, is driving us into the very hole we had hoped to avoid. So turn off your social media and turn down the volume on talking heads and shouting news anchors.
So who should we be listening to? And who should be leading us in this time of crisis? Well our leaders would be a good start but with some of them having abdicated good sense for much of their term in office, I would suggest something rather radical. Perhaps, just perhaps, we should listen to an expert. No, not a self proclaimed expert who has an Instagram handle and is called on nightly television debates to scream till they are blue in the face, but an actual expert. Like a doctor or a medical practitioner. Even better a person who has a background in infectious or communicable diseases. I’d put my money on them telling us the truth rather than this wagon-load of celebrities, politicians, social commentators, journalists or (god help us - pun intended) God men, that are trotted out everyday to tell us what to do and how to perceive and see things. Maybe someone who actually has some training, knowledge or experience in these areas would be a good person to at least hear from - rather than dismiss as some kind of elite intellectual who knows nothing about the sufferings of the common man. Maybe - just maybe, we should listen to the scientists.
But what the heck do I know right?