Covid-(20)19 and Stupid-(20)20

What Covid-19 has put in very sharp focus is the utter powerlessness of man before the forces of nature as well as the futility of talking science and reason to obscurantists, religious bigots and conspiracy theorists.

(Published in Daily Times, 10 April 2020)

Practicing social distancing at the officially vulnerable age of 70 as far as practicable and hoping to keep Covid-19 at bay, I would rather not get into controversies. But the number of theories regarding Coronavirus now floating on the internet, and proliferating like the dreaded virus itself, compels me to speak.

Only one of the many “theories” now being peddled is genuine, the rest are either pseudo-theories or conspiracy theories. In the year 2020, the year of the Covid-19, the vast majority of us are wise enough to repose our trust in science and medicine, which is why we consult the doctor, listen to epidemiologists and virologists, run to the hospital and expectantly look forward to the discovery of a cure and a vaccine for this new, deadly virus.

For the only genuine, scientific theory, allow me to quote from Wikipedia: “Coronaviruses are a group of related viruses that cause diseases in mammals and birds. In humans, coronaviruses cause respiratory tract infections that can be mild, such as some cases of the common cold, and others that can be lethal, such as SARS, MERS, and COVID-19.

“Human coronaviruses were discovered in the 1960s. The earliest ones studied were from human patients with the common cold, which were later named human coronavirus 229E and human coronavirus OC43. Other human coronaviruses have since been identified, including SARS-CoV in 2003, HCoV NL63 in 2004, HKU1 in 2005, MERS-CoV in 2012, and SARS-CoV-2 in 2019. Most of these have involved serious respiratory tract infections.”

According to our conspiracy theorists, however, Covid-19 is either a Chinese or an American artifice to gain the upper hand in their new trade war.

Now, if this particular Coronavirus is a Chinese creation to hurt America, it has resulted in a severe self-inflicted wound on China itself with dire long-term consequences for the economy and reputation of the country. And if it is a wicked American invention, it has backfired in a very terrible way too. Americans are running scared and the country is probably heading for a deep recession, even a depression.

We know that biological warfare is for real. So, it is theoretically possible that the US or China (depending on one’s own warped worldview) created this deadly virus to let loose on the enemy. However, one fundamental rule which every creator of a virus would know is to create, at the same time, a vaccine as well as an antidote to the virus just in case it is accidentally released on its own people or arrives back on one’s own shores as a blowback.

It is obvious that the US has no vaccine and no cure for this virus and is presently clueless, which constitutes sufficient proof that this virus is not “made by CIA in USA”. Of all the developed countries of the world, the US has revealed itself as the least prepared for the pandemic. Nor did China seem prepared when the virus struck Wuhan, throwing the leadership into panic.

Conspiracy theorists refer to the movie “Contagion” made in 2011, in which a fictional pandemic of a virus called MEV-1 kills between 25 and 30 per cent of those it infected. This is to suggest that someone somewhere knew about the virus being conceived.

The threat from viruses is nothing new. As far back as in 1958, Joshua Lederberg, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine, had warned that viruses pose the greatest danger to mankind. So, the theme of the film was not the accidental revelation of a secret plan, or even science fiction, but based on scientific fact and foreboding.

Some vested interests have instigated xenophobic and crazy thugs to damage 5G phone masts in UK by falsely claiming that “the new network generates radiofrequency radiation that can damage DNA and lead to cancer; cause oxidative damage that can cause premature aging; disrupt cell metabolism; and potentially lead to other diseases through the generation of stress proteins.” This false narrative has neatly interweaved with the conspiracy theories around Covid-19.

Then, of course, there are the super villains, namely, the large, multinational pharmaceutical companies. They are alleged to have engaged in scare-mongering to sell their products. This theory is peddled by the far left, who blame it on these companies’ lust for super-profits.

Last but not least are those who believe that all natural catastrophes, including this pandemic, are the curse of God for our sins (“Ghazab-e-Elahi” for Muslims). All major religions, to a greater or lesser degree, believe that mankind has in the past, and again now, invited the wrath of God for his wayward ways.

According to them, the present pandemic is particularly punishing because man was beginning to think of himself as the master of the earth and of his own destiny. He was filled with conceit and arrogance. He spurned his creator and benefactor. Through this microscopic creature, namely, the Coronavirus, the creator has now turned the table on man, showing him who is the boss.

Members of the Tableeghi Jamaat have scoffed at the idea of social distancing, claiming to be immune from the virus as they dedicate themselves to the cause of God. In fact, they have been responsible for a very large proportion of the infections in Pakistan, India and Malaysia, anywhere from ten to thirty percent.

Similarly, Orthodox Jews in Israel, the Haredims (“God-fearing”), flout the rules of social distancing. The Orthodox-dominated suburb of West Jerusalem called Bnei Brak, has been declared to be a restricted zone as it has become a Covid-19 hotspot. Chaim Kanievsky, an influential rabbi, refused to close packed synagogues and religious seminaries, insisting that “the Torah protects and saves”.

Some evangelical Christians in USA and South Korea, and Hindus and Sikhs in India, also flouted the rules of social distancing by congregating in churches and temples. But they did so to a far lesser degree than Muslims, in general, and the Tableeghi Jamaat, in particular.

What Covid-19 has put in very sharp focus is the utter powerlessness of man before the forces of nature as well as the futility of talking science and reason to obscurantists, religious bigots and conspiracy theorists.

It is not the first time that the forces of nature have revealed their overwhelming power. For as long as man has lived on this earth, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, fires and epidemics have frequently reminded us that, relative to the forces of nature, we are but specks of dust.

In terms of sheer scale and spread, Covid-19 is unlike anything that we have seen since the Influenza of 1918-20, which killed an estimated 50 to 100 million people. But that is an event beyond anyone’s living memory.

Mankind will recover from Covid-19, rather humbled from the experience. Science and medicine will, nevertheless, forge ahead in the pursuit of knowledge and to improve human lives. But like viruses, obscurantism will survive and conspiracy theories will mutate. For every onset of the likes of a Covid-(20)19, there will be a corresponding Stupid-(20)20, in the form of conspiracy theories and obscurantist nonsense.

by Razi Azmi

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21 Responses to Covid-(20)19 and Stupid-(20)20

  1. Khalid Pathan says:

    Very well written, full of information and a thorough analysis of the entire crisis, based on reasoning and facts.

  2. Jerry Pattengale says:

    This is provocative. Azmi’s brilliance in giving content with candor. Though I think the thousands facing COVID deaths, basically alone, indeed have deep spiritual reflections, his observations on claiming exemptions to infection on religious grounds are well stated. For those following the Bible, Ecclesiastes 3 speaks directly to being human, and subject to the common inflictions. There are indeed miraculous interventions recorded, they are for specific purposes. In short, exceptions.

  3. Tanveer Azmi says:

    Interesting analysis. I think now the world will work towards eradicating not only all forms of Corona Virus but also other present and future harmful viruses from earth.
    I don’t understand the phrase ‘Social Distancing’, where it should have been called ‘Physical Distancing’. Socially we can be close using other forms of communication like Facebook, Twitter, Cell and so on.

    • Razi Azmi says:

      I don’t think we will ever totally eradicate all present and future viruses. But we should certainly be more prepared than we were now. I feel that some countries, above all the USA, were caught with their pants down. And, yes, Tanveer, you raise an excellent point: social distancing is an incorrect terminology, it should be called physical distancing.

  4. Pradeep Kalra says:

    We are all living in fear of the dreaded Covid-19 which has claimed the lives of thousands and infected over a million world over. As per the author viruses have existed in the past also, but not as deadly as this one. The spanish flu happened a century ago and killed millions but that is too long ago.
    We humans have a very short memory. The leaders of this world should realise that the need of the hour is to listen to experts and plan accordingly.
    A glance reveals that had the so called leaders acted (according to scientific advice) promptly much of the deaths could have been avoided. Some of them are busy blaming each other and some are letting religion take center stage.
    Razi Azmi has spent his time to bring this well-researched article which as usual is frank and based on facts and he deserves my appreciation.To conclude, let us not forget social distancing and staying safe.

  5. Mohammad Zaki says:

    Well written and very informative with beautiful analysis.

  6. Naheed Azmi says:

    Again, a very thought provoking and fact based article. There are so many theories that one can only marvel at how contorted some minds can be, if only they use it for a constructive purpose. This fear mongering in an already dire condition isnt helping many weak minds.

    I personally am at a point that if I receive one more message of those 5G network/ Bill Gates / US Or China bio-war message i will be tempted to cough in that person’s face, malice or not . Its beyond annoying now.

  7. Noman Sattar says:

    As others have commented, the article is not only based on scientific knowledge and practical insights, it is interesting to read, and understandable for the common Corona-scared person. i just wish the author had more to add on the religious dimension, at how the God chosen (and, in Pakistan, state supported) religious leadership is bent upon defying science and common sense to prove their piety, and faith in God. Finally, I fully agree that the term ‘social distancing’ is misleading, and needs to be replaced. As the Chinese would say, Corona-ridden times, though scary, are interesting times!

  8. Carl Pletsch says:

    “Americans with their pants down” is an understatement. We’ve got an emperor with no damned clothes on at all!

  9. Shakeb Zubairi says:

    Another fantastic Article by Razi Azmi – very informative and logical. Not only he provided history of viruses but also covered the conspiracy theories related to Covid-19 but didn’t discuss their reasons.
    One of the reasons for such theories actually is lack of transparency in sharing of information by the relevant authorities. In many videos circulating in social media, even journalists are shown questioning the figures of casualties. Any suspicion could have been removed by publishing the names and addresses of those who died because of the Coronavirus on a Govt website.

    • Razi Azmi says:

      Shakeb, I don’t know if you watch news on BBC, Al Jazeera and CNN. If you did, you would see the fear and gloom on the faces of President Trump, NY Governor Cuomo, other officials, doctors and nurses. If these are not enough to satisfy the doubting Thomases and conspiracy theorists, then no number of published names will. Surely photos and videos speak much more vividly than published lists of names. Numbers of dead and infected were provided in all western countries on a daily basis.

  10. M. Anwar Hossain, UGC Professor, University of Dhaka says:

    As a Biochemist and a Microbiologist I fully endorse what Razi has expressed in his brilliant article. The tiny and very weak (it is not even fully living and can only survive and thrive inside a living cell) has challenged the Homo Sapiens. The mighty Sapiens with their scary nuclear warheads, toxic gases, biological weapons, emerging technologies of their fourth industrial revolution, their mighty corporate capital, power of sanctions against weak Sapiens – seem so inadequate and futile against the most weak member of nature that they had to go for lockdown.
    And the miracle is happening. The carbon emission, green house gases, level of nitrogen dioxide – are significantly lowered during the Corona time, the lockdown.
    We must not miss the message of Corona (the endangered nature). Coronavirus has shown a path. Vast majority of Sapiens (the good ones) can follow the path. March in unity to reach a New world, where the Homo Sapiens can live in harmony with all species of nature including the virus. Thanks Razi for your thought provoking article.

  11. Ali Wako says:

    I just hope the deaths in other poorer parts of the world such as Africa and Latin America is not as dire as it has been so far elsewhere. Their health systems are very poor and overwhelmed in the best of times and a pandemic will kill far too many. Excellent insight as usual from Razi, keep up the good work.

  12. Javed Agha says:

    Interesting analysis. Makes sense.

  13. Rana Thakur says:

    Covid-19 conditions must be a wake-up call for the nuclear warhead manufacturers to divert their resources (scientific, financial, political) towards research works for better sustenance of the human race (socially, politically and intellectually) and towards saving the nature where all living beings dwell.

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