The parable of King Corona has lessons for the pandemic's progress

A century ago, the Spanish Flu is estimated to have killed between 17-50 million people. Since 2020 Covid is estimated to have taken 5.5 million lives but did Governments overreact?

Lockdown in New York
Lockdown in New York

Dr. Amitav Banerjee

Scientists recently were reminded of the classic quote from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." But Wolfgang Wodarg, a German physician and politician, claimed it was the new name SARS-CoV-2 that triggered panic of the pandemic. Otherwise, he argued, it was similar to all other existing viruses that go largely undetected during the ‘normal’ annual spikes of respiratory viral infections in winter. The pandemic, he implied, has been a “tragedy of errors.”

In this narrative, the new name gave the virus the status of ‘royalty’ and placed it on a pedestal over other nameless coronaviruses, the commoners. It is a parable of our time.

Coronated ‘King Corona’, the virus swiftly acquired the reputation of being a cruel monarch and wherever he went, people fled from streets, schools and markets and hid in their houses. They did not venture out or allow children to play in the open or go to the park, put up no resistance as ‘King Corona’ made its triumphal progress from one continent to another.

Rulers in most countries decreed that their subjects cover their faces while stepping out to avoid an accidental encounter with the King. But curiously the rulers and their courtiers were not in awe of King Corona. They seemed to have a secret understanding with the King.

King Corona and the world governments used “Fear as the Key” to the hilt. The subjects were told that King Corona found both young and the old appetizing and would prey on them, if found.

The King was naked but there were no innocent children to point this out. And so, like a cowardly warrior, King Corona killed only the old and the infirm, the ones with co-morbidities and those who were too slothful and obese.

King Corona was no match for the young and the healthy. It only licked the young and bit a few of the old. But fear and panic paralysed people. It suited the rulers in dealing with pesky subjects.

The rulers (WHO and Governments) declared war on King Corona. A war chest was created, money mobilised and several patriotic bidders came forward to support the war effort and supply arms and ammunition (vaccines and ventilators). Suppliers made money on emergency purchases and courtiers collected their commission.

When panic among the people subsided, courtiers and advisors came up with other ‘variants of concern’ to keep the fear alive. Without fear there was no money to be made. Yes, the variants were weaker but they were still associates of King Corona, the courtiers whispered in awe.

Scientists, who said 99% of people up to the age of 69 had survived even after getting infected were shouted down in WhatsApp groups. What would these scientists know that the rulers don’t? The scientists’ sugges-tion that people’s continued obsession with King Corona was affecting the social and mental health of the population was laughed off.

The Bhagwad Gita offers some lessons. We have come to the present state through the three gunas– 'Tamas', 'Rajas' and 'Sattva', described in Chapter 14, Verse 10 of the Bhagwad Gita. Tamas signifies darkness, destruction, and chaos which were prevalent in the early days of the pandemic. Nothing was known about King Corona resulting in mass casualties due to poor battle plans.

This phase was followed by Rajas meaning passion (misdirected), action (often wrong) and confusion–mostly due to flip flops by WHO, Centre for Disease Control and other institutions. Now is possibly the time for moving to the third phase or Sattva which signifies goodness, constructive action and harmony – symbiotic relationship with the latest descendent of King Corona, Omicron. Live and let live.

(The writer is a Clinical Epidemiologist presently at DY Patil Medical College, Pune. He has served for over three decades in the Indian Armed Forces and headed the Mobile Epidemic Team at AFMC, Pune)

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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