A World Full of Man-Made Risks

We still have to reckon with the possibility of third waves emerging at different times in future in different countries, including our own, meaning that we cannot let our arms down yet

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

Even as the Covid-19 pandemic seems to be finally abating in terms of the total numbers of cases and deaths that are being reported regularly, another controversy that has now gone mainstream is the theory of the lab-leak which is receiving extensive coverage in the US media in particular. Much of the research about the sanitary measures had been done there initially, and then crystallized into the recommendations made by the US Centres for Disease Control, which were broadly accepted and followed by most countries, as they were also articulated by the WHO.

We still have to reckon with the possibility of third waves emerging at different times in future in different countries, including our own. Pic – New York Times

One would recall the expert who was on American TV almost daily, and invariably when President Trump would be giving his briefings, namely Dr Antony Fauci, considered to be the top infectious diseases specialist in the US and Director of its National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. As 2020 rolled out, gradually Dr Fauci’s appearances diminished, until finally he was no longer present at all in these briefings.

Things have taken a 180-degree turn about him following the availability of his 900 emails totaling over 3000 pages. According to US news channels, they have revealed correspondence between him and the Wuhan Institute of Virology, with US scientists and researchers working in collaboration with the Institute and funded via an entity called Ecohealth Alliance to carry out what is called ‘gain of function’ research on coronaviruses. Other than engineering these viruses to make them more lethal and produce corresponding diseases that could then be studied, so that scientists and doctors would be more prepared to face them should they erupt in future, at some stage concern was raised about this line of research becoming ‘too risky.’ The worry was about using such engineered viruses for biowarfare. Whether or not that research was stopped is yet to be determined, and hopefully the task force set up by President Biden to investigate the origins of the Wuhan virus will come up with a more definitive answer than the WHO team has.

Meanwhile the pandemic has swept across the world, infecting hundreds of millions and killing millions, and leaving in its long trail medical and health devastations, as well as social and economic impacts that will disrupt lives and societies far into the future.

One global issue of more direct and immediate concern is vaccination: regarded by all experts as the key measure, among the others recommended, that will stop the spread of the virus, in practice all countries are facing problems of supply, and most have to fall back on the WHO Covax platform. Predictably, the rich countries have secured their supplies in advance and on a priority basis. UK PM Boris Johnson has made an appeal at the recent G7 meeting for the whole world to be vaccinated by the end of 2022. How achievable is that depends of course on availability and access to all – a tall order!

Even if this be possible, there still remains the significant proportions of people in all countries who refuse to receive the jab, a situation which we are facing here too. This pitches the debate to one between private choice and public good, posing a challenge to authorities everywhere, and making the prospect of total immunity recede even farther. Each country has to take this call for itself about how best it can achieve its vaccination goal, and some hard decisions no doubt have to be made.

Meanwhile, while some countries are beginning to lift restrictions given their improving situations  – UK, France, India, US among others — we still have to reckon with the possibility of third waves emerging at different times in future in different countries, including our own, meaning that we cannot let our arms down yet.

* * *

Protecting ourselves from films and social media

The golden rule should now be: everything is fake until proved otherwise

The recent discovery of the bodies of two young women in a fruit orchard in Mare d’Albert, suspected of being murdered by an alleged serial killer, brings to the fore once again the vulnerability of people to the perverse influence of forms of the media that exert inordinate influence on our lives – and sends alarm bells about how all of us should be extremely careful in our responses to what we view.

The golden rule should now be: everything is fake until proved otherwise.

Several years ago, before the explosion of social media, I had written an article titled ‘Reel life is not real life.’ It was to caution youngsters of an impressionable age about the dangers of an overexposure to Bollywood films in particular. I had observed: ‘There are many films which provide wholesome entertainment. Unfortunately, many of the more popular ones, which tend to be lapped up and therefore imitated uncritically by the credulous – especially in matters of dress and “style” – fall into the “misguiding” category. And this applies in particular to the Bollywoodian films which depict heady romanticisms centred around the stale love triangles of cavorting macho-looking actors and actresses aping their western counterparts, in tropical locations far removed from the context and realities of India. Et pour cause – because these films are targeted essentially at the Indian masses who need to escape from the tedium of their daily grind.’

I had quoted the remarks of Bollywood actor Shatrughan Sinha, who had then been appointed Union minister of Health: ‘I deeply regret misguiding the youth in my films with the villainy antics…my style of smoking and drinking in the films might have misled many youths and I am sorry for that,’ adding that he quit posing for a liquor brand after doing so only once because of the money.

While many youths, female and male keep succumbing to the fakes peddled in Bollywood films, social media with Facebook leading has now emerged as a major corrupting influence if not properly used. This was highlighted in last week’s editorial in this paper about the dark, dangerous side of social media: about cases of ‘especially women in vulnerable situations, taken in by the false promises being made, using fake identities and changed names. Unsuspectingly, they believe that the names being used and the promises being made – of marriage, or travel outside/settling abroad – are genuine, and it is too late by the time they realise and then can’t escape because of blackmail, well-known being photos of the victims in compromising postures being surreptitiously taken and made to go viral on social media. In extreme cases, these lead to suicide, or to the killing of these subjects.’

Was also emphasized ‘that the responsibility of protecting oneself lies squarely on the shoulders of the individual… since it would appear that many people, especially those in difficulty, are not aware of the dangers that await them on Facebook.’ Further, ‘everyone must be extremely careful in using Facebook, whether it is posting material especially personal details, or responding to posts. They must check, check, check before they take any step forward if they do not want to end up cheated or dead.’

It is therefore up to parents and family, NGOs and civil society organizations to take the lead in creating the necessary awareness among citizens. But, at the same time, the State should also step in and launch a campaign to supplement the efforts of non-State actors in this project. There is a very valid reason for the State to be involved: in the protection of the citizens of the country, fundamentally, and eventually, when a crime is committed, it is the State’s human and logistical resources that are mobilized to investigate and try to solve the crime, resources which could otherwise be put in service elsewhere.

This is a world full of risks at every bend. It’s up to us, both individually and collectively, to be extremely vigilant at all times. And seek help if we are not sure.

* Published in print edition on 8 June 2021

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