Capital Grapevine
Capital Matters

Capital Grapevine

Virendra Kapoor

Under controversial chief, WHO’s criminal delay in declaring it a pandemic

The WHO took its own time calling the Chinese virus a global pandemic. By then the coronavirus had spread to over a hundred countries and infected more than one lakh people, and claimed four thousand lives. But Tedros Adhnom Ghebreyesus, the China-centric Director-General of WHO, has offered no satisfactory explanation for the long delay why, when the first case of the new strain of the pneumonia virus was detected in Wuhan, China, sometime in November last year, it took him so long to empower the global community.

For us in India it is important to remember the date on which the apex global health agency under the aegis of the United Nations declared the China virus a pandemic. It was on March 11. It is, therefore, wrong to suggest that India delayed stopping all international flights to and fro and in undertaking massive testing. Remember how Tedros was virtually rebuking member-countries even in early March for sealing their borders and stopping flights from China? Indeed, he went to the extent of asserting that international travel had no effect on containing the spread of the disease. More notably, he asserted that there was no evidence to suggest that the virus was transmitted from humans to humans.

We recall the above only to debunk a narrative sought to be advanced by some habitual critics that India lost precious time in launching the anti-corona operations. Every passenger who landed on and after March 1 was traced, tested and directed to remain in self-isolation for at least two weeks after which the health authorities again tested him, advising the next step as per outcome of the test. A group of Italian tourists who tested positive were quarantined and allowed to leave the country several weeks after they were rid of the virus.

Of course, there will be time soon for everyone, including the authorities, to do a post-mortem of the massive country-wide exercise undertaken to minimize the impact of the pandemic both on human life and on the economy. But that time is not now. Unfortunately, some elements in the media, joined by a couple of disgruntled lawyers, have unleashed a vicious campaign to undermine the ongoing campaign against the Invisible Killer.

Rahul Gandhi harping on strategic thinking, on strategic approach, strategic testing, et al sounds like a broken record without making any sense to anyone about what that strategy is all about. As for the low levels of testing, like every developed country India too lacked both an adequate number of trained healthcare personnel as well as the relevant equipment to step up the number of tests. And like every other developed country India too is importing medical equipment from all available sources to increase the number of daily tests.

But, happily, the suggestion that people are suffering for want of testing is unfounded. All anecdotal evidence suggests that there has been no noticeable rise in deaths across the country for want of coronavirus tests. China grossly underreported the deaths due to the virus in Wuhan but soon the word spread about the inordinate number of burials across the region. Even the belated upward revision by fifty percent in the number of deaths in Wuhan may not actually reflect the true picture. Likewise, in certain Latin American countries despite the officials playing down the impact of the virus, ordinary people openly report an overnight four-fold increase in the number of burials in recent weeks.

At least there seems to be no ground for such doubts about the official claims about the number of those affected, dead and in hospitals in India. Whether it is a much weaker strain of coronavirus or it is the weather or the fact that by habit people in South Asia are used to survive in poor personal hygiene and terrible public sanitary conditions, the fact is that in India or, for that matter, Pakistan, or even Afghanistan, the sweep of the pandemic has not been as lethal as it is in most western countries. We are used to breathing bad air, drinking polluted water and eating adulterated foods. Even the quality of our medicines is very often suspect. Does it prepare us to withstand the virus one cannot say with any degree of certainty, but the fact that the pandemic has not been as severe as it is, say, in the US or the UK, would call for a thorough investigation by scientists.

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Politicians offer their own corona models

Even when they are engaged in fighting the most severe challenge to public health from the killer virus, politicians are engaged in one-upmanship. Kerala cannot stop beating its own drum, shouting from housetops how well it has handled the threat. Of course, the Marxist regime is making full use of a friendly press in the State and in the national capital to magnify its claimed excellence in fighting off the virus.

Then the Congress leaders started touting the Bhilwara model to claim how well the Ashok Gehlot Government had contained the virus. In fact, Priyanka Gandhi even wrote a letter to UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath commending him the Bhilwara model. Of course, Yogi was not amused. He had managed to keep the tally of the affected and the dead from the virus much lower than, say, Delhi or Mumbai. So, he came up with his own Agra model as the way to go for handling the corona challenge.

Unfortunately, Priyanka Gandhi spoke too soon because within a couple of her letters to the UP CM, Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan erupted with a rash of cases with the authorities finding it hard to enforce social distancing and other measures.

The moral of the story is that eschew the temptation to score brownie points when peoples’ lives are at stake. Both Priayanka and Rahul Gandhi have found it hard not to blame the BJP governments, while Sonia Gandhi has had the good sense to steer clear of partisanship in this critical hour for the entire country.

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Two tweets on corona situation

We reproduce here two tweets, one from Arun Shourie, a former minister in the Vajpayee Government, and another from Aakar Patel, a newspaper columnist who heads Amnesty International’s India chapter.

Shourie, first: ` MP has chief minister with no Health Minister and no Cabinet. Principal Secretary Health is Corona+ve; 45-plus IAS officers are Corona+ve; 75+other officers from Health Department are corona+ve! Media is silent because it is paid for not reporting the incompetence of BJP. Enjoy!’

And now a gem of civility from someone who claims to be the torchbearer of secularism, liberalism, humanism and all other isms that are provided these are viciously hostile towards the Modi Sarkar. Here goes Patel:

`If you want to blackmail a supreme court chief justice on sexual harassment then Modi’s your man -- I’ve never denied that. He's good at that sort of thing with Amit at hand. But an epidemic is not his thing. The pimps don’t like it either. They need something more red-blooded.’

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The facts and views mentioned in the article are that of he author

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