When science-denial and signs-denial come together

The Home Minister tells us that we have successfully fought the COVID-19 pandemic. Where have we heard this before? Ah yes. His boss had said something similar at the World Economic Forum at the end of January. Since then we’ve had close to 20 million cases.

The Chief Minister of Uttarakhand assures us that the coronavirus is a living being too and has the right to life like the rest of us. Luckily for the rest of us, he hasn’t taken the matter to court. The Chief Minister of Uttarakhand criticizes the Delhi government for vaccinating “too quickly” and suggests that one way of making the vaccines last is to slow down the process.

He’s right. With a little planning (or more correctly, the lack of it) we can make the pandemic last till 2030 spreading out the small amount of vaccine we currently have.

The phrase ‘vaccine hesitancy’ means different things in different countries. In most places it is the reluctance of people to get themselves vaccinated because they don’t believe it will help or they think it is a trick by Bill Gates to get into their blood stream, thus micro chipping away their individuality.

Here in India, vaccine hesitancy refers to the government’s hesitancy in ordering vaccines in time from the manufacturers, its hesitancy in getting ahead of the curve, its reluctance to change a bad plan in case we think it is an admission of an earlier goof-up.

The poet Lord Tennyson wrote about how one good custom could corrupt the world. Our poets ruling from Delhi are probably hoping now that the reverse is equally true: that one bad custom can restore our world.


In Karnataka, an MLA leads a procession pushing a cart containing a burning fire of cowdung cakes, camphor etc. because, he tells us, it would cure COVID-19. We have the cure, dear MLA, it just needs to reach the people. Perhaps he can push some vaccines on a cart and ensure they reach our citizens in remote areas.

All this – and don’t forget other solutions like rolling in cow dung, or swallowing various concoctions of uneatable stuff – would have been hilarious if it weren’t so serious. Why are we so intent on attracting ridicule?

There is little doubt that any government in India would have struggled with the scale of the coronavirus problem. There are systemic, psychological, economic, historical reasons for this. There is too the health system which totters dangerously every time there is a crisis. Both science-denial and signs-denial work against a cure. Fake cures with no scientific basis and a refusal to read the signs or data have hampered our efforts.

It is only when you admit you are wrong that you can take the next step and correct the mistake. We continue to register the most number of daily cases in the world. Only 3.3 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. The crisis isn’t over. But we will recover. And forget. Till the next time.

(Suresh Menon is Contributing Editor, The Hindu)

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