DUMB AND DUMBER ON COVID-19
As the world death toll from the covid-19 pandemic surges and Boris Johnson recovers from a severe attack that saw him spend days in intensive care, it is interesting to look at how other world leaders have dealt with the coronavirus. In Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, the 65-year-old hard-line president, has urged his people not to follow the “psychosis” that he says has infected the West over the virus. “The world has gone crazy” he asserts, informing Belarusians that to ward off the disease, they should wash their hands with 50 ml of vodka, drink a good glass of the spirit daily, go to the sauna and eat their breakfast on time. Lukashenko, a former collective farm boss during the Soviet era, suggested that working in the countryside was the best solution to the pandemic. “There, the tractor will heal everyone. The fields heal everyone,” he said, refusing to implement self-distancing and even allowing football matches to continue.
Lukashenko is not alone in his covid-19 scepticism in the former Soviet nations. While Central Asian countries such as Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan have reported a large increase in cases in recent weeks, neighbouring Turkmenistan and its wacky leader President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov (try saying that after a glass of vodka!), has claimed that inhaling smoke from a burning desert plant called Peganuma Harmala, will kill the virus stone dead. Turkmenistan has reported no cases of the disease and indeed President Berdymukhamedov has now banned the use of the word “coronavirus”. Anyone heard uttering the word, which has been erased from literature and banned on state media, faces instant arrest. In a country that even bans broadcasting news of car accidents, Berdymukhamedov is determined to maintain the illusion that he is a superhuman leader and no disease or misfortune can ever befall his 6 million people.
Across the Atlantic, covid-19 deniers are also in action. Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro used a televised address to the nation to rubbish travel restrictions and quarantine measures that were being implemented by many of his governors. Urging schools to reopen and people to return to work, Bolsonaro claimed that the governors and mayors were committing a crime by risking mass unemployment and “destroying Brazil”. He stated that social distancing was unnecessary and that the virus was not all that deadly, as it was just like “a little flu”. Bolsonaro’s big pal is Donald Trump, with whom he shares some of these views. The world has grown accustomed to President Trump’s bizarre and often contradictory statements, but on the coronavirus pandemic he has excelled. Firstly, he claimed medical expertise, saying “People are really surprised I understand this stuff. Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability.” He initially branded the deadly coronavirus a 'hoax' telling a packed rally in North Charleston that the Democrats were to blame for covid-19 coming to America. He said President Obama’s policies on immigration had allowed coronavirus to spread to the US - despite the fact the Democrats have been out of power for four years!
President Trump echoed Bolsonaro’s flu claim, stating on 9 March: "Last year 37,000 Americans died from the common flu. Nothing is shut-down, life and the economy go on... Think about that." He then accused the World Health Organisation (WHO) of fake news, attacking their assertion that the virus would kill 3.4% of people who caught the infection. "I think the 3.4% is really a false number... Personally, I think the number is way under 1%," Trump said. He was quickly contradicted by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director-General, who told a press briefing at his headquarters in Geneva: “Globally, about 3.4% of reported COVID-19 cases have died. In comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1% of those infected.” Trump responded by claiming: “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” But when the virus failed to miraculously go away by April, Trump quickly changed his tune stating: "I've always known this is real, this is a pandemic. I've felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic."
Trump will certainly have some solid support in the Greek Orthodox Church. Their Holy Synod issued a statement in early April, as the virus raged across Greece, maintaining that it was impossible to catch the disease by attending Holy Communion. ”For the members of the Church, attending the Holy Eucharist certainly cannot be a cause of disease transmission,” they declared. “Faithful of all ages know that coming to receive Holy Communion, even in the midst of a pandemic, is both a practical affirmation of self-surrender to the Living God and an apparent manifestation of love,” they averred.
Meanwhile, Swami Chakrapani Maharaj, a leader of the Hindu Mahasabha political party in India, claimed that the best form of protection from the virus was to rub cow shit over yourself from top to bottom. Not to be outdone, the Indian government recommended that people should squirt a drop of sesame oil in each nostril as a good homeopathic preventative. Clearly if Indians follow this advice social distancing will be no problem!
Inevitably, while such claims and counter-claims dominate social media, the conspiracy theorists have a field day. The latest and most hare-brained conjecture is that 5G causes coronavirus. The conspiracy took root following a presentation filmed at a US health conference. The film was released on Youtube and showed a self-proclaimed expert on alternative medicine, claiming that Africa was not as affected by the coronavirus outbreak because it was "not a 5G region". However, since the video was published the WHO has confirmed thousands of covid-19 cases in Africa. Nevertheless, this hasn’t prevented the loonies from claiming that 5G is a sinister Chinese plot, which compromises your immune system, rendering a person immediately susceptible to covid-19. The conspiracy has prompted more than 20 arson attacks on phone masts across the UK, almost none of which had 5G capability!
P. J. O'Rourke, the American political satirist and journalist famously said: “No drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we're looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn't test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power.” The coronavirus pandemic has proved him right.