Prof. T K Thomas

Prof. T K Thomas

The coronavirus has played havoc with modern man. Suddenly, it is dawned on even the most powerful and the mighty nations to realize what a virus can do and threaten even their very existence. This invisible coronavirus is no respecter of power and might and shows no distinction between the rich and the poor, the scholars and the illiterate, strong and the weak, the powerful nations and the so called third world. People in the developed countries used to think that pandemics are meant for the poor tropical nations with low GDP and literacy, mosquitoes, flies, contaminated water and unhygienic living conditions. The coronavirus pandemic has taught the world that timely preventive actions and precautions are needed to fight such health emergencies. Some of the worst affected nations are few of the most advanced and prosperous countries in the West. The death toll in the US, Spain, Italy, France and the UK is the highest with the US reporting the largest number of virus infected people and deaths.

The WHO chief in the initial days of the spread of the virus had asked all countries to ”test, test and test”. India was already importing testing kits besides manufacturing some; but the indigenous ones were too expensive and were not fast enough to cope with the ever-growing demand in the face of the pandemic. Efforts to make faster and more affordable kits have been hastened by our researchers. IIT Delhi’s Kusuma School of Biological Sciences had started working on an indigenous kit in late January and now has developed a kit which has been approved by the Indian Council of Medical Research. This was announced last week by Prof V Perumal, professor at IIT Delhi who said that in three months, an affordable, low-cost diagnosis will be ready for use in large numbers. Similarly, we also did not have an adequate number of ventilators; but companies like Maruti started manufacturing [target 10,000 by May end]. Besides, existing manufacturers, start-ups like Bengaluru-based InnAccel Technologies are now chipping in with lighter- weight and economical ventilators.

The whole world ravaged by the coronavirus is in search of a drug for cure and a vaccine for prevention. While testing kits or ventilators can either be imported or indigenously manufactured, the problem is a proper cure for the treatment of coronavirus and a vaccine for prevention. Scientists from across the world are busy burning midnight oil for that elusive vaccine. The latest is that there has been a key breakthrough for a vaccine developed by an Oxford University scientist which could be available around October this year. According to media reports, a vaccine trial for coronavirus at the university by Sarah Gilbert, a professor of vaccinology who disclosed last week that 80% success has been already achieved. Gilbert seeks to administer the shot to 500 participants by May. Hope, that becomes a reality. Hectic efforts are on by other countries including India.

As the spread of the virus grew in alarming rates, patience seems to be running out especially in the worst hit countries. A desperate US president Donald Trump in his characteristic, impetuous style suggested his own remedies for treating the virus afflicted; he has been lampooned by the international media and on social media. Let me first flag the latest suggestion by Trump made last week. He announced from the White House that people should be injected with disinfectants, obviously an untested remedy. He of course admitted that he is not a doctor. I would only quote Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University as reported by ABC News. ”He is like the family member around the dinner table that does not have a grasp of what reality is and is willing to speak with confidence despite it….But in this case it is the president of the United States and it is dangerous.” Trump’s statement led to condemnation and an outcry from the medical and health fraternity everywhere. A statement from the parent company Reckitt Benckiser that makes Lysol and Dettol is worth quoting. “We must be clear that under no circumstances should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body [through injection, ingestion or any other route]”.

The White House spokespersons tried to say that the presidential comments about disinfectants as cure were “misinterpreted” and later Trump himself said that he had been speaking sarcastically. It is strange that the president of the US speaks in this manner about a grave danger threatening lives of his citizens.

The earlier statement by the U S president was when he allegedly threatened his favourite ally and ‘’best friend’’, of recent vintage, India with retaliatory action if we failed to meet their requirements of Hydroxychloroquine [HCQ] to fight the virus. When Trump announced in the second week of March that HCQ is “God’s gift’’ and “game-changer’’ as a remedy for the virus infection, his own health professionals including the 79 year old infectious disease expert Anthony Stephen Fauci , the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984 had disagreed with the president. In fact, Fauci, when asked about the president’s claim said that there was no scientific data to support the use of the drug and that anecdotal evidences cannot be trusted.

The problem has been that the US was not at all prepared to face the pandemic. It is worth mentioning that in November 2005 President George Bush in a speech at the National Institute of Health in the presence of Fauci had warned that the US may face a pandemic. ‘’Science and doctors” he said, “cannot tell us where and when the next pandemic will strike and how severe it will be. But most agree that at some point we are likely to face another pandemic. It is vital that our nation discuss and address the threat of a pandemic.” President Bush also urged the scientific community to be ever prepared to face a pandemic with enough stock of vaccines and antiviral drugs. He had also set out to spend a 7billion dollars plan and launched a website, for pandemic preparedness. Whatever happened to such a contingent plan? No wonder the US was not ready for such a disaster. But somehow over the years any such steps initiated for preparedness seems to have slowly tapered off. Had President Bush’s timely warning was heeded by his successors, this viral catastrophe would not have hit that country.

Health authorities in Wuhan, Hubei, China, had reported on 31st December,2019 about a viral pneumonia. It later spread and the rest of the coronavirus outbreak is history. The first known death caused by the virus was reported by China on 11th January this year. It slowly appeared in other countries and the United States reported the first confirmed case on 21st January in Washington state where a man in his 30s, who had returned from Wuhan developed symptoms. On 22nd January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Joe Kerman, an interviewer of CNBC asked President Trump if there were worries about an outbreak of the novel coronavirus in China becoming a “pandemic”. “It is going to be just fine….We have it totally under control” was Trump’s reply. CNBC later, on 13th March had reported how Trump after dismissing a coronavirus pandemic in Davos now claims he believed the coronavirus outbreak was “a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic”.

Without being judgmental about the above dichotomy I would say that the United States had not taken the impending disaster seriously in time and was not thoroughly prepared to face it, paying a heavy price for it. Didn’t being sarcastic, boastful and not heeding to professional warnings and advice lead to the largest number of deaths in the U S? Didn’t the most powerful country in the world have attitudinal problems of invincibility like the owners of RMS Titanic? Titanic, the largest ever ship cruising at 22 nautical miles per hour, that found its watery grave in the North Atlantic Ocean in the wee hours of 14 / 15April, 1912 sank in less than three hours, killing over 1500 passengers after a head-on collision with a gigantic iceberg. This was despite six warnings to be careful!

Come to think of the irony of it. There is a saying that what goes around comes around. President Trump after assuming office wanted to fence the US borders with Mexico to prevent large scale illegal migration to the US from that country. Later he asked Mexico to pay for the cost of the fencing! The BBC reported on 26th March that Mexicans demanded a crackdown on Americans crossing their border breaking the fencing to escape the pandemic. This was following reports that US citizens were breaking their own fence to enter Mexico. Cuba, a small country surviving under economic blockade and threats by the U S has been sending doctors worldwide to fight coronavirus. Vietnam, a country that was completely destroyed by the U S is now supplying medical suits the US to face the coronavirus pandemic!


The facts and views expressed in the article are that of the author .