Once upon a time there was an Ovid. The Roman poet wrote Metamorphoses, tales of transformations. And now we have amongst us a COVID-19 or Coronavirus, transforming life as we know it. Ovid’s Metamorphoses begins with an invocation to “supernatural beings/Who first contrived/The transmogrifications/In the stuff of life” (translation by Ted Hughes). A more potent line follows — “You did it for your own amusement.” The outbreak of COVID-19 brought with it a contagion of conspiracy theories. The US blamed China. Iran blamed its enemies. And some brave Chinese spoke up against the Xi Jinping regime. Chinese professor Xu Zhangrun, in a scathing public critique, wrote: “This viral outbreak, which has been exacerbated by the behaviour of the power-holders and turned into a national calamity, is more perilous perhaps than total war itself.”
Ovid’s Metamorphoses raises the question, “who can carry/The incineration of a Universe?” And the question we are faced with today is this — are a few nanometres of a virus all that takes to undo a world? The medical impact of Covid-19 is known, deepening, unknown, unravelling. The non-medical impact is no less scary. Iran has temporarily released more than 54,000 prisoners to combat spread. In Italy, all professional football matches and big sporting events to be held behind closed doors. Māoris in New Zealand are going easy on the hongi — traditional greeting in which people press noses. There is panic in New Zealand over paracetamol shortage as factories in China manufacturing the active ingredient have been closed post virus scare. And in India the Prime Minister won’t play Holi. Imagine!
The Great Leveller
According to the World Health Organization, every month frontline health responders need in order to protect themselves and others from COVID-19 — 89 million masks, 30 million gowns, 1.59 million goggles, 76 million gloves, 2.9 million litres hand sanitiser. Everyone is devising his or her own strategy to battle or use COVID. The owner of a fancy dress shop in Germany has reportedly bought up masks from other countries including Poland and China and is now selling them at a decent profit. Trump used the virus threat to tom tom the wall on the US-Mexico border and hit out at the 'Democrat policy of open borders'. A new website, Donottouchyourface.com, is offering to help stop people from touching their face. A ping for every face touch. Russia will be closing its borders with Iran. The world over, tourism has taken a hit. Aerial photographs, released by space technology firm Maxar, show normally busy spots from Mecca to Beijing missing regular crowds. In Africa, it is feared that the high prevalence of malaria could make difficult a diagnosis of coronavirus. And in India, independent MP from Rajasthan, Hanuman Beniwal, has demanded Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi be tested for the virus. At a time when it seemed like nothing could unite a raucous hate-filled self-serving humanity, COVID appeared. Many, many centuries ago Ovid wrote, “Fas est ab hoste doceri.” One should learn even from one’s enemies.