Just when we thought that vaccines had the Covid-19 pandemic under control, at least in western countries, the Delta variant threatens to derail whatever progress was made. In India too, as well as in South-East Asia, the pandemic continues to rage, with not much improvement in daily new cases.
At a time like this, we ought to thank the medical and scientific community as well as the pharmaceutical companies for accelerating the pace of clinical trials and the development of new vaccines. It is another matter that some of them have made record profits during the pandemic and have ensured a pipeline of new drugs (and more profits), thanks to the new mRNA technology.
Meanwhile, stock markets too continue to soar across the world, including in India, because of all the liquidity pumped in by central banks, leading to the wealthy becoming wealthier. This, when millions still continue to be unemployed and consumer demand is weakening after the initial spurt in pent-up demand.
I thought I’d use the Story of Midas from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, who wished to be granted the golden touch, so that everything he touched would turn into gold. Realising his foolishness, he later asks for the wish to be retracted. In my piece, however, I contrast the healing touch with the wealth touch, since I believe the world needs more of the former right now.
The healing touch
The lands in the West looked forward
To the vaccines that would deliver
Relief from the virus, and toward
Days more normal, as ever.
The doctors and nurses too endeavoured
To help patients recover
Day and night, they persevered
In selfless pursuit forever.
Glad for the Sire restored, the grateful God
For guerdon bade the Phrygian name and have
What wish he would, nor knew how thoughtless greed
Could mar and useless make so fair a boon.
Grant,” quoth the eager King, ” whate’er I touch
May turn to gold! And that pernicious gift
So pledged the Godhead granted, sad at heart
To find the fool lack wit for wiser choice.
The story of Midas in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book XI, Lines 127-134
In the East, though, something worse was brewing
A variant of Covid called Delta
Which, in no time, was spreading
As quickly as a wild fire.
It spread the pandemic in a new wave
Taking it to many shores
The vaccines for now would keep us safe
Who knew how many waves more.
Meanwhile, economies reopened for business
And people returned to work
Central banks kept pumping in money
And that did wonders for stocks.
The wealthy indeed got wealthier
While the poor struggled to get by
Entire industries had been torn asunder
Joblessness still unusually high.
Rich beyond hope and wretched past despair
Loathing the wealth he cannot choose but coin,
Cursing the boon that but an hour ago
He prayed for, stood the wretch, his hungry maw
Unfed, his fevered gullet parched with thirst,
Starving, with torment not unmerited
The story of Midas, Ovid’s Metamorphoses Book XI, Lines 165-170
The jobs making advances
Were those nobody wanted
With Delta still avoidable
Why would anyone take chances.
Some hailed the return
Of labour’s bargaining power
But with technology on quick-burn
No telling who would have the shining hour.
Poorer countries fared no better
Few had access to enough vaccines
As rich countries talk of a booster
The poor haven’t had the first jab in.
Which raises an ethical question
For governments and pharma companies
In the West, since they form the bastion
Of controlling the supply of vaccines.
The kindly Godhead heard the fault confessed,
Nor loth to cancel what but for the faith
Of promise pledged he ne’er had ratified,
Revoked the boon, and set the suppliant free.
Yet this, he said, “ere of this golden-taint
Self-sought thou purge thee thoroughly, must thou do:
Seek out the stream that flows by Sardis’ walls;
And, facing still its downward course, ascend
The steepy hills that bank it, till thou reach
Its source, and where the fount flows freest plunge
Thy head, and cleanse thy body and thy guilt! “
The story of Midas, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book XI, Lines 176-186
If the rich believe they come first
They are sadly mistaken
For the wealth bubble can burst
Not so the power of healing.
The virus is global and that’s a fact
None is safe until all are protected
Makes sense to donate through Covax
And progress together, unimpeded.
The featured image at the start of this post is of The Judgement of Midas by Andrea Schiavone (1548-50), of the time when Midas had retired to the pastoral idyll of the Pans and judged a music contest between Apollo and Pan.