Someday there will be an audit of the efficacy or otherwise of the measures urged upon governments by the tiny pool of Covid ayatollahs, and of the consequences of following their advice.
Science is based on trial and error, as well as an absence of what may be termed the Ayatollah Syndrome. This is when a minuscule group of individuals claim that they alone know about a situation, and what needs to get done about it. Word of the new virus burst into the public sphere in January 2020. The Wuhan Institute of Virology in the PRC had for some years been introducing “gain of function” characteristics into an otherwise harmless virus found in nature. The research had been externally funded by institutions in the US. Such experiments posed the danger that this lab-created variant of a known pathogen could prove deadly to human beings. As soon as word spread of Covid-19 (or SARS2), a handful of individuals involved in the Wuhan experiments claimed that they alone had the knowledge and understanding needed to bring the pandemic under control. Efforts in some countries to resort to easily accessible medication as a way of increasing immunity or lowering the severity of the disease, were ridiculed by these Covid-19 ayatollahs as voodoo medicine. This verdict was without subjecting such options to any sort of test to examine scientifically whether such drugs could be effective, even as more and more practitioners of the medical sciences across the world resorted to their use. Their experience was ignored, as indeed was the very idea that there could be a therapeutic silver bullet to eradicate the pandemic. The Covid-19 ayatollahs were unanimous that only vaccines would work, suggesting that attention to medication was a waste of time. Huge amounts of taxpayer money were spent, especially by President Trump to find a vaccine that could prevent the disease in the way that had happened with smallpox or polio. Once the world had seen that polio and smallpox vaccines worked, they cheerfully got vaccinated. More than the word of ayatollahs, it was actual experience that motivated people to protect themselves by getting inoculated with a vaccine. In the case of Covid-19, the ayatollahs initially made extravagant claims about the protection that would result from vaccines that moved from concept to reality in about a year. It must be added that such speed was almost certainly the consequence of the money that some governments were throwing at the problem, the results of which were in the US transferred to private companies, and in China to state-owned companies. When some of those vaccinated got Covid-19, such “breakthrough infections” were diagnosed by the ayatollahs as rare. As the “breakthroughs” multiplied, the message changed. Vaccination may not protect against the catching of the disease, but would ensure that the effect of catching the virus would be mild. Of course, in any case, a substantial majority of Covid-19 cases were mild, including among those vaccinated. This ensured that the latter forecast rang true. This columnist had been doubly jabbed, yet got Covid-19, not in 2020 or during the early part of 2021, but in September 2021, after several therapeutic remedies had finally entered the market, one of which pulled both him and his spouse back into normal life within days.
Our country saw in 2020 the Great Indian Lockdown. This was a record-shattering lockdown of the entire country at four hours’ notice. This step was taken in accordance with the prescription of the Covid-19 ayatollahs that lockdowns would “break the chain” of infection. Whether in the US or in Europe or in India, what was clearly broken after lockdowns was the job market. This was probably why in 2021, despite the march of the Delta mutation of Covid-19 across India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi refused to once again drink from the Lockdown Chalice. This new policy was met with repeated warnings from the ayatollahs, but India has done much better this year than countries that locked down over and over again. Someday there will be an audit of the efficacy or otherwise of the measures urged upon governments by the tiny pool of Covid ayatollahs, and of the consequences of following their advice. Countries that are democracies are severely affected. The recommended steps taken as a consequence of the pandemic made individuals in the US, Europe and other democracies behave in the evenings much as citizens of North Korea do. They stay at home. President Joe Biden till days back reflexively followed the diktat of the ayatollahs. Despite that, the US continues to have a staggeringly high rate of Covid-19 infections despite Biden going by the prescribed regimen in most of 2021 exactly the way so many of his peers in other countries did in 2020, barring exceptions such as Sweden. The soft power of its theatre, its film industry and music concerts have propelled the US to the top of the soft power league. That is in jeopardy, given that such activities have been either totally or substantially banned to “break the chain” of a virus that seems uncaring of the message of the ayatollahs. Staying indoors, studying online, even conducting romances online rather than face to face, is changing the chemistry of the young in the US in a direction, the final destination of which is still obscure. Those expert in attracting partners online are usually psychologically and perhaps even physiologically different from those who used pre-Covid methods. The standard Covid-19 quarantine period is resulting in huge gaps in the available workforce for several lines of activity. It is the US that the PRC sees as its geopolitical rival, and since the pandemic, the “land of the free and home of the brave” is becoming anything but. The multiplying restrictions imposed on US residents (to “break the chain”) represent the opposite of freedom to choice. Not to mention that millions are quivering with fear about Covid-19, living in terror that they may catch it. The bright spot is that habits such as wearing a mask (which has long been routine in Japan for those with a cough or cold) and paying greater attention to hygiene have been catching on. Time will tell whether the Covid-19 ayatollahs were right in their draconian prescriptions. What is evident is that the measures resorted to are changing not just the economies but societies, including on both sides of the Atlantic.