‘ Of Hot Seats, Games of Chances and a Vanishing Green’, by Yolanda de Sousa

To say we are living in unusual times is an understatement. Two viruses – the corona and politics – have got our heads in a whirl. On them hinges the health of humanity, the future of humankind. Only a bunch of quick and well thought out policies can now spell the death of the corona. Of course, a lot will depend on what the scientists say and on how well the policy makers warm up to them. A pandemic though it may be, strategies are subject to overall conditions at home. That is why measures to control the infection have varied from country to country; and so have the people’s responses, influenced by opinion makers.

Scientists say that viruses are found in almost every ecosystem on earth. In particular, the coronaviruses constitute a group causing diseases in mammals and birds. In humans, they cause respiratory tract infections ranging from mild (like common cold) to lethal (SARS, MERS and Covid-19). Whereas Coronavirus (Covid-19) is the name of the disease that flared up last year-end, the virus per se is called ‘Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2’ (SARS-CoV-2). WHO refrained from using this label lest it should bring to mind the havoc that the virus created in Asia less than two decades ago.

Mysterious transmission

Ironically, the change of nomenclature ended up being suspect. Many have viewed it as a tactical move to cover up a mysterious case of zoonotic transmission. Soon another theory gained currency: that covid-19 was nothing but a laboratory manipulated virus, which probably leaked ahead of time. Some still believe it was meant to be a bio-weapon. And much though a paper published in Nature Medicine ruled out the possibility of SARS-CoV2 being a “laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus,” the authors conceded quite significantly that “it is currently impossible to prove or disprove the other theories of its origin.”

While China is blamed for spreading the virus, the USA is accused of spreading panic. The two countries have traded insults in a political table tennis or ping pong, but chances are the two extreme political players have met! Many see the American uproar as a ruse to promote their pharmaceutical industry. The logic is that the paranoia will eventually translate into profits; and this is how: even while a vaccine is awaited, deaths will rise – and so will the demand for that elusive preventive. And partners in crime the two countries will be if found pre-engaged in devising a vaccine for the pandemic. Covid-19 would then rightfully be a ‘US-China Virus’!

Be that as it may, acts of commission and omission have kicked off an infamous ‘Covid Era’. The statistics may be doctored but the virus is seen as a killer that came from nowhere; hence the hype, with contentious lockdowns and economic disruptions for collateral damages. But that’s not all. The Lancet has documented the psychological impact of quarantine. The findings offer a glimpse of what is brewing in hundreds of millions of households around the world: a wide range of symptoms of psychological stress and disorder, including low mood, insomnia, anxiety, anger, irritability, emotional exhaustion, depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms. Among them low mood and irritability stand out as being very common… How many societies are equipped to handle such situations with sensitivity?

Humanitarian crisis

So, over and above a health crisis, we are stuck in an economic and labour emergency. In effect, we are saddled with a humanitarian crisis that, alas, not all societies are handling with kid gloves. Economic recession and growing unemployment; labour unrest and resultant law-and-order problems; hunger and disease: isn’t that a magic recipe for the rise of authoritarian leadership? After all, ruling the hearts and minds of a battered people comes easy to the political class. No wonder a curious, novel subservience is in the offing. And as likely as not, the powers-that-be will make hay out of the issue and hammer out a new world order.

That countries on lockdown can’t go anywhere is a myth. Citizens pinned down by covid-19 have lost track of the days, weeks and months, and of what’s cooking in the cauldron of political equations. These have changed, perhaps imperceptibly, in Iran, Israel, and Korea, all of them pre-covid hotspots, not to speak of countries in Europe, Africa, Latin America, and the Indian subcontinent. Thankfully, a large section of the media and opinion makers has risen to the occasion. They’ve guarded their independence and stocked us with news of go-downs brim-full even while supermarket shelves lie empty and, what’s more, populations go hungry.

The need of the hour is to protect our sanity and our freedoms. We must seek ways and means of sailing through the storm in a concerted manner. E-commerce has risen to the occasion as though predesigned for the pandemic, said The Economist. The IT and service sectors are due to experience a high. Many others are reinventing themselves in an earnest bid to survive. Individuals and households are rediscovering themselves and rising from the ashes. In many countries, the lockdown has been eased on offices and shopping centres, and people have heaved a sigh of relief.

Power of prayer

Predictably, man does not live by bread alone. Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship is a must. Public places of worship – traditional havens of spiritual solace – have to stay open with dignity. Necessary protocol devised and followed up to the letter will go a long way towards restoring the confidence levels of the people.

The covid fault line runs deep and is not likely to be repaired anytime soon. At any rate, the world is unlikely to be the same again. We have to brace ourselves up for a long haul and an abnormal, new normal! But when we can’t walk, we mustn’t crawl; we should rather talk and even learn to fly – and we’ll fly best on the wings of prayer. Invincible as we’d thought ourselves to be, did it ever cross our minds that a tiny virus would throw us into a spin? And with the virus shrouded in mystery, the world has fallen on its knees in fervent prayer. This is indeed our safest bet if we wish to call the bluff of a scientific coterie and political mafia, two viruses in a mad swirl.


  1. This is an updated version of the article published in The Goan of 24 May 2020.
  2. Many thanks to my friend, well known artist Yolanda de Sousa of Studio n Galeria, Calangute, Goa, for permission to use her painting of 23 May 2020, depicting the two viruses in a swirl, as I see them.
  3. Header by my son Emmanuel de Noronha.