Corona Diaries 62: Of God, Government & Hope

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More than 1.5 million lives worldwide, more than 1.35 lakh in India. Shocking numbers. And the virus is not done yet. Nearly a year into the pandemic, we cannot even hazard a guess on how many more would perish. To put a positive spin to the overwhelmingly gloomy scenario, it could have been worse. Pandemics of earlier centuries were much more devastating. People just died in millions without realising what hit them. Now, at least we have some idea, and hope of a solution.

Death is no more a metaphysical mystery, it’s a technical problem. Over thousands of years, writes Yuval Noah Harari in ‘Homo Deus’, sequel to the brilliant ‘Sapiens’, people grappled with famine, war and plague – the major killers of mankind – and resigned themselves to the conclusion that death must be an integral part of God’s cosmic plan or of our imperfect nature.

How things have changed at the beginning of the third millenium! ”…Most people rarely think about it, but in the last five decades we have managed to rein in famine, plague and war. Of course, the problems have not been completely solved, but they have been transformed from incomprehensible and uncontrollable forces of nature into manageable challenges. We don’t pray to any god or saint to rescue us from them. We know quite well what needs to be done in order to prevent famine, plague and war – and we usually succeed in doing it.”

Most deaths, mankind acknowledges, are human failures. We begin investigation and promise ourselves that next time, we’ll do better. “And it actually works,” writes Harari, “For the first time in history, more people die today from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die today from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals combined.” In earlier centuries, infectious diseases wiped off a whole percentage of the population – the Spanish flu of 1918, for example, is believed to have eliminated entire five per cent of India’s population. That is no more the case. Viruses haven’t gone away, he believes, but we are equipped better to make sense of them.

However, there’s a gap between knowing better and doing something about it. In India, the healthcare system was not quite ready for such a daunting challenge. One can argue that no country in the world was. But that is not a positive; that’s being in denial. At some point we need to acknowledge that we have veered too far away from real issues and have been wasting too much on matters irrelevant to our lives as citizens. Sensation-seeking on media has numbed us to even something as serious as death. The COVID-19 crisis should be a wake-up call. It should lead us to ask questions to people we elect whether they are doing enough to ensure that we are safe and sound.

HOPE AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL

Speaking of hope, a vaccine would surely be a big psychological booster dose for the stressed world. The talk of a vaccine itself is indicator that we no more treat the current pandemic as something beyond our control; it is just that right now we don’t know how to get there fast.

We already have a few vaccines showing great promise in trial rounds. Media reports say Pfizer/BioNtech claim a success rate of 95 per cent in their trials; Moderna claims similar success rate for its vaccine; and the Oxford trials claim about 70 per cent success. Russia’s Sputnik V has a success rate of 92 per cent. A few months from now, there would be vaccine on the shelves of medicine stores. The next challenge would be to produce it cheap and take it to the masses.

The message from the trials is novel corona virus is tameable, like the variola, the small-pox virus, and unlike the immunodeficiency virus in the case of HIV-AIDS. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

FROM GOD TO GOVERNMENT

Life expectancy, writes Harari, has climbed from 40 in the early nineteenth century to around 70 in the 21st century. Whether human beings can live up to 150 years or beyond is now more a matter of serious scientific research than of fantasy. During the British era, the average Indian life expectancy was 32 years, now it is just shy of 70. The credit goes to modern science. Diseases such as cholera, small-pox and malaria were major killers in earlier days. A huge number of children died before they reached one year of age. Back then diseases were considered the scourge of God. Not so anymore.

People still die of these diseases but, like we mentioned earlier, these are because of human failure. We might have failed to take healthcare to people. The vaccine for COVID-19 might be ready soon, but it is still the job of governments to take it to people. Scientists can find ways to fight pathogens but the rest of it is pure logistics.

Studies show the better the healthcare system and status of general education, the better is the chance of survival of people. Governments come in here.

CRICKET: BOWLERS, SET SMALLER TARGETS PLEASE

Coming to Team India’s dismal performance Down Under, it’s no metaphysical mystery. Being belted for 370-plus runs in 50 overs in two consecutive matches surely means we miss something at the human level: a bowling plan to be precise. This is, inarguably, India’s best bowling attack in many, many years. Every single member is a proven performer. Yet none appears to have a clue about the rampaging Oz batters. They have given at least 50 runs extra in each match, making it difficult for batsmen to chase targets. The latter have done a decent job so far, posting 300-plus scores in two matches. They would do better placed with a smaller target to chase. Would the bowlers ensure it stays around 330?

Well, it comes down to a plan. The team thinktank should hit the drawing board again.

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