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It’s still here, but who will tell the deniers?

Herd mentalities are sweet, but what of those unheard? President Trump’s almost-Keats moment didn’t go far, but his Freudian slip tells us something about the manner in which the three countries worst-affected by COVID-19 – the US, India and Brazil – are handling it. As the numbers rise, authorities are saying in effect, “Deal with it.” They haven’t actually washed their hands of the issue, but they are keeping a social distance while masking their intentions.

The herd, meanwhile, is convinced that the virus has been wiped out, and it is time to pack the beaches, fill the pubs and crowd temples to pray for ancestors (whom they might be joining sooner than expected). COVID-19 fatigue is palpable; administrators, professionals, citizens all seem to be afflicted after several months of restrictions.

The Union Health Minister told Parliament that thanks to the original lockdown, 29 lakh Indians did not get the virus, and 78,000 did not die. This is commendable statistical work from a government which cannot tell us how many migrant workers died while walking the hundreds of kilometres home, or the number of doctors who perished doing their jobs. The Indian Medical Association says 382 doctors died of the coronavirus. The least the health minister could have done was tell us, in this new fashion, that “383 doctors did not die.” The ability to convey certitude through negative reasoning is a politician’s gift.

As is the ability to cherry-pick statistics to present the least worrying picture. Five million cases? Don’t worry, that’s only 0.38 percent of the population. Eighty thousand dead? Well, that’s 0.006 percent. Deaths per million? Sixty one. Then there’s doubling rate, recovery rate and so on. Yet here we are, with nearly one lakh cases daily, and that does not include the asymptomatic or those untested. These are flesh and blood people we are talking about, not merely another dot on a graph.

Three current problems crying out for solutions in India are the Chinese situation, the threatening economic recession and the pandemic. It is a trifecta of huge proportions. They involve troubleshooting, rebooting and executing ideas. But the ideas must be generated.

Only our television channels are dealing with all this with the seriousness they deserve – by focusing on Kangana Ranaut. When politicians don’t give straight answers, there’s always Bollywood. It is disappointing, however, that we haven’t been told what the Chinese Premier Xi Jinping thinks of Rhea Chakraborty.

When the American President said recently, “Science knows nothing,” he was pointing to the kind of science denialism prevalent in India too. So-called godmen attempt to sell unproven ‘medicines’, while those in power have discovered it is useful in both politics and religion to hark back to a ‘scientific’ past when India invented flying machines and produced test tube babies.

Getting this herd to wear masks and maintain social distancing is a bigly – to borrow a word from Trump – job. There’s little point in losing ourselves in, as Trump said, “the oranges of the investigation.” No, I don’t know either.

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Printable version | Nov 26, 2020 1:15:06 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/its-still-here-but-who-will-tell-the-deniers/article32646472.ece

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