People stand in a queue to purchase essential items during the nationwide lockdown in Shimla. (Express photo/Pradeep Kumar)
What does Sophie’s Choice mean? In the book Sophie’s Choice by William Styron (made into a film starring Meryl Streep), when Sophie, the central character, arrives at the concentration camp in Auschwitz, a camp doctor forces her to choose between her two children: who would die immediately and who would continue to live. If she doesn’t decide, both children will die. Agonised in the decision she is compelled to make, Sophie chooses to sacrifice her eight-year-old daughter. Sophie’s own life is destroyed by the guilt that consumes her for the rest of her doomed days. Sophie’s Choice is described as a situation where a decision taken means the outcome of either choice is equally as bad as the other. But a decision has to be taken. There is no lesser evil.
Prime Minister Modi was faced with Sophie’s Choice. If he did not order a lockdown there would be tsunamic deaths. In the lockdown there would be calculable hardships, particularly for the poor. But if he did not order a lockdown, the poor would suffer the most with scant access to medical facilities. With the lockdown, the economy would take a hit and lead to massive unemployment. But if he didn’t order it, the spread of COVID-19 would mean the economy would be hit anyway with labour getting the disease.
The lockdown means that in three weeks COVID-19 will manifest in whoever has the disease and it will be contained. But will it be possible to locate and treat poor people who get the disease? The policy is that at least all those with the disease will be in quarantine and isolated so they do not spread the disease. Images of crowded markets during the lockdown are discouraging and will render the lockdown useless. Inept police control and overzealous, cruel police are emerging problems. Food and medicine supply chains are in jeopardy. We have to face these issues as they come up.
As leaders in various countries have taken decisions on how to deal with the pandemic, it exposes the intrinsic character of that leader and the core priorities of that nation. Donald Trump has continued to show his diablerie with irresponsible medical information and goof ups. As reported, President Donald Trump on Friday disavowed his role in the discombobulated US response to the novel coronavirus. “I don’t take responsibility at all”. Trump said. He blamed “rules, regulations, and specifications from a different time”.
Trump vacuously announced that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine were drugs that could halt the disease, despite Dr Anthony Fauci (Director, NIAID) disagreeing that the science is not yet there to validate Trump’s hope. Trump’s endorsement led to panic buying of the drugs creating shortages, putting those who actually need it at great risk and no benefit along with false hope for those taking it prophylactically.
Trump said that social isolation shutting down business means that the cure is worse than the disease. Without evidence he said the economic downturn caused by continuing the social distancing recommendation could result in more deaths “than anything we are talking about with respect to the virus.”
Trump raved that he, “would love to have the country opened up, and just raring to go, by Easter”. And he added casually, “I think it’s possible, why not?”. On Fox News, Trump expressed outrage about having to “close the country” to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Trump babbled, “Our country wasn’t built to be shut down. This is not a country that was built for this. America will again and soon be open for business. Very soon”.
Clearly, this shows Donald Trump’s character. He doesn’t even have the decency to have a Sophie’s Choice. For him business is his core belief and lives lost are inevitable collateral damage.
Boris Johnson has shown equal buffoonery. Swinging from the trees like a crazy chimpanzee from herd immunity and no isolation to sudden lockdown. The herd immunity was shelved when scientists told Johnson it could result in up to 250,000 deaths, but the damage had already begun. The UK population is 6,64,35,600 — the United Kingdom reported 9,529 cases of COVID19 with 463 deaths. The US population is 32,94,33,166 — there are 68,573 reported cases in the US with 1036 deaths. India’s population is 1,31,15,59,204 — India has 693 confirmed cases with 14 deaths. It is possible we have under tested and under reported.
PM Modi has always shown awareness of the poor and underprivileged, even if it is for the vote bank. In this decision, he has chosen to ignore vote bank politics. The poor who will suffer will not love him. The middle class and wealthy will not love him for causing inconvenience. But, he has squarely faced Sophie’s Choice. And we have to bite the bullet.