STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan
COVID-19 has put a spotlight on politicians’ and scientists’ behavior. A comparison rarely made before. They have their own domains. They seldom crossed paths. This onslaught of a ruthless killer has put them front and center. The politicians generally don’t look beyond their nose and the scientists think a hundred years ahead.
A bold assertion. Let us analyze their motivation and underlying facts. A politician seeks office touting his desire to serve his people. Invariably it serves their desire to hog the limelight and capture power. There are honorable exceptions, but exceptions prove the rule.
By scientists I mean doctors, researchers, health workers, engineers and technicians. They test the frontiers of knowledge to benefit humanity. They don the white coat to work incessantly, with total commitment to serve. A few leave an indelible mark on history through achievements. Most of them are unsung heroes. They provide a plank for a journey to a better future.
Let us take a global view first. COVID-19 broke out in Wuhan late December 2019. It went unnoticed for an initial few weeks till Dr Li Weniang blew the whistle on it. Dr. Ai Fen, Director Emergency at Wuhan Hospital, confirmed it. Both were reprimanded for creating unrest. Dr. Li fell victim to this unforgiving virus. He was honored posthumously leaving behind a young family to grieve.
After initial hiccups, the Chinese came out fighting. They galvanized as a nation, enforced lockdown promoted by scientists, and overcame the spread. They are beginning to open up again. They are now the suppliers to the world of much needed equipment and materials to combat COVID-19.
Now to our neighbor to the south. USA is the most powerful and probably the richest country in the world. It is in total turmoil. Its leadership bumbled big time. They lost precious eight weeks between January and March, when each day counted.
According to recent reports, US intelligence reported the possibility of a pandemic as early as November 2019. It got lost in the layers of bureaucracy. In January, COVID-19 breakout in Wuhan was world news. Such virus outbreaks do not stay local. They spread quickly and viciously.
Many countries lacked data and the capability to prepare for step one, the ability to test for COVID-19. USA with it prowess and scientific advancement had this ability. Some private sector labs and scientific research centers embarked on this effort in January 2020. But the political leadership and territorial bureaucracy resisted such efforts. These initiatives were shut down in February 2020. It is a cruel example of political short sightedness obstructing alert scientific minds.
The Center of Disease Control, called CDC, took over the responsibility to provide testing of COVID-19.Their first attempt failed. It was mid March by the time test kits became available.
The country has passed through a heart wrenching experience. Imagine if the testing had started eight weeks earlier, how many infections could have been detected? How many deaths could have been prevented? The same is true for availability of ventilators, protective gear and masks.
While the scientific innovators were chained, complacency prevailed on the political scene. In a presidential system all power flows through executive branch. Its head, President Trump was on a different planet. He initially stated this virus was just another type of flu that will pass. When it hit US shores late January, the official count was 15 cases. He minimized the issue. He claimed these 15 will soon become zero! A bit later he came up with another novel solution. “This virus will disappear in warm weather.”
It was early March that the scientists in the White House task force prevailed. It dawned on the President that drastic measures were required. US has tremendous clout, resources and ability to mobilize and muster the needs to combat and control this virus. They are deployed now, but it takes time which many of the half a million infected don’t have. Self isolation, physical distancing, ordering of equipment could have been done two months earlier to save overwhelming pain, misery and deaths.
The daily briefings on TV have turned into a joke. In crisis a leader is expected to be strong, in control, magnanimous, sympathetic and caring. He has displayed no such qualities. He comes across as crass, combative and thin-skinned. Where he needs to be reassuring, he touts his successes which at times are fake. He maybe a great street fighter but he always punches downwards. He kicks the vulnerable especially if they are females. The most powerful person in the world acts like “Picasso of pettiness.”
A similar trend was followed in UK. Prime Minister Boris Johnson did not heed advice of his scientists. He downplayed challenges of COVID-19. See where it left the suffering in that country. Italy and Spain have gone through similar experiences.
COVID-19 will eventually pass after battering humanity and the global economy. It will teach us many things, if we heed. In difficult times of health challenges, politicians should step back to make room for scientists to manage and deal with the crisis. Their political egos can be massaged later. Thank God, Pakistan and Canada have embarked on this path. Hopefully we all will come out less damaged and bruised.
A piece of good news for dog lovers – China has re-categorized dogs from livestock to pets!