Just a thread, as Langda Tyagi argued in the cult classic Omkara, separates ignorance and stupidity. If you pull the thread, nobody can say who is stupid and who is an uninformed. But some people have stupid written in bold face on their forehead. There is now a word for this condition — it is called Trumpidity.
Those who have been following the trajectory of the coronavirus pandemic in the US know the defining signs and symptoms of Trumpidity. First and foremost, it is the inability to fathom the gravity of a catastrophe even when it is staring you in the face, like looking at a tsunami and ignoring its threat, or prophesying that it will subside with an increase in temperature.
The other defining trait is the refusal to listen to experts and resort to hope, rumours and unscientific drivel while dealing with a threat that can be suppressed only through scientific interventions.
The third feature is an almost inhuman disrespect for human life and a disconcerting love of the economy, leading to impatience for life-saving restrictions and keenness for businesses. And the final hallmark of Trumpidiots is preaching to the public exactly the opposite of what they practise in personal life — like refusing to wear a mask while the experts are asking everyone else to do it.
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The US is already paying a huge price for their President’s inept, almost comical, handling of the coronavirus pandemic. So much so that after 2.75 lakh infections, 7,500 deaths and an overwhelmed healthcare system, its people are now saying other countries are fortunate to be dealing with only a virus and not a quixotic warrior tilting at the windmills.
There is a lesson for India from the US tragedy — don’t let Trumpidity define your coronavirus strategy. Simply put, don’t take the threat lightly, don’t let unscientific theories define the response, don’t act like an idiot in public and be patient.
Around six weeks ago, while the world was getting ready for the coronavirus crisis, Trump was giving sermons to Indians on the virtues of Swami Vivekamundan (referring to Swami Vivekananda), smug in the belief that the illness would spare the US, and the virus would disappear as the temperature rises. When he went back home, he discarded the pandemic as a hoax, and a conspiracy hatched by his rivals to undermine his re-election bid.
Today, India is around a month behind the US on the coronavirus curve. Over the past 20 days, the number of cases has gone up 20 times — from 129 on March 16 to more than 3,000 hundred on April 4. And, from just two deaths, the number has gone up to 86, a 40-fold increase. With the number of new infections doubling every 4th day, India is now at a tipping point, perhaps on the verge of seeing a big explosion in numbers.
Two hopes have been belied during this period. One, the virus doesn’t slow down with a rise of temperature. The corona curve — 100 per cent rise every 3-4 days and a ten-fold increase in three weeks — shows the virus is growing unchecked even when most parts of India are now registering daily rise in temperature.
Two, the virus doesn’t appear to be especially lenient with Indians. Given an opportunity it strikes at will, and doesn’t spare anyone. The high incidence of the illness among people who had gathered at a markaz in Nizamuddin — the number of patients is suspected to be 1,000 and growing — shows the virus can run through the population if left unchecked.
The mortality among Indians — 98 among 3000 confirmed cases — is consistent with the global rate of around 3%. Like everywhere else in the world, the pandemic has been especially hard on Indian men — the ratio at the moment appears to be 75:25. And, though most of the casualties have been among older patients, there have been at least 14 deaths in people aged below 50, the youngest being a 25-year-old man from Uttar Pradesh.
The only reason the number of cases has not exploded in India, like in Europe and the US, is because India enforced a strict lockdown at the initial stage. Though there have been cases of violation of restrictions, at least 80% of the Indian population has stayed home since the third week of March. This has effectively broken the chain of transmission of the virus in large pockets.
India can’t afford to let its guard down. A countrywide lockdown was ordered when the virus was just about taking off — the number of positive cases was around 700 on March 23. Now that the numbers are doubling every week and the confirmed cases are likely to be in excess of 10,000 by mid-April, the restrictions will have to be extended. Remember, so far only 70,000 people have been tested for the virus.
As April 14 — the day when the lockdown is scheduled to end — approaches, the Indian government would come under pressure from the Trump school of epidemiology. There would be calls for lifting the lockdown — a crazy idea considering the curve of the epidemic — and fatuous arguments about the “slow spread” of the virus in India compared to Europe and America. All these would, of course, be ridiculous Trumpisms. If the patients can double every 4-5 days in spite of a lockdown, opening up the country when the cases are spreading to new towns and cities would be devastating.
The best strategy for India would be to extend the lockdown for at least a few more weeks and use this hiatus to get ready for a long fight with the epidemic. Over the next few days, India needs millions of units of personal protective equipment, billions of masks and thousands of ventilators. For, unless there is a miracle, the virus is not going anywhere in a hurry. It will be around till a treatment is found, a vaccine is available or a herd immunity develops among Indians.
To hope without recourse to scientific data that the virus will spare Indians or disappear in the summer will be cataclysmic. To rephrase Sherlock Holmes, it would be sheer Trumpidity to theorise before all the evidence is available.