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Coronavirus diary – Part 28


(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 10, 2020 US President Donald Trump takes his mask off before speaking from the South Portico of the White House in Washington, DC during a rally. – US President Donald Trump on October 11, 2020 declared himself immune from Covid-19 as he prepares to return to the election campaign trail and fight to regain ground against rival Joe Biden. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

We don’t even know how strong we are until we are forced to bring that hidden strength forward. In times of tragedy, of war, of necessity, people do amazing things. The human capacity for survival and renewal is awesome. – Isabel Allende

Humor is essential, even — or especially — in tough times. Shared laughter gives us strength in adversity and can help us feel a bit more in control when the future looks uncertain. – Emily Kelleher

Like most tragic events, COVID-19 has its own comic reliefs. They have been spawned by the struggle by humans to live with the reality of COVID-19. Some come in the strain of making light of the dreaded disease, or ignorant dismissal of its existence. I recall the first time I ventured out to the market. Some of the retailers, seeing us wearing face masks derided us and passed COVID-19 as ‘‘big man’s disease.’’ For them, it is a class disease that has nothing to do with the common man. Come to think of it, we are told in Nigeria that a nameless Italian brought the virus and the victims have been big men in government and the business world. But this by no means undermines the prevalence of COVID-19 in the country.


In the light of the now well-established low incidence of COVID-19 in Africa various perceptions of the virus abound. In Botswana, Southern Africa, the prevalence is minimal. In comparison to beer with the ‘Lite’ variant, it is called COVID-lite.

The general incredulity in Nigeria elicits the retort: ‘‘Coro no dey’’ (there’s no COVID-19). Others would say: ‘‘we can steam it out with hot water infused with garlic and ginger.’’ Also, there is widespread disregard for the use of masks. The few who do, largely middle class, lower it to their chin, warranting the comments from Boss Mustapha, chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, that the people have turned the face mask to chin mask. President John Magufuli of Tanzania gave samples from animals with human names to his scientists for COVID-19 test and they were all returned positive. Such is the corona phenomenon in Africa.


In parts of Europe, the virus inspires fear. The fear of COVID-19 makes joking about it rare. It has adversely impacted on everyday life and business routine. Some viewed it as Apocalypse calling for repentance to be saved. With the shut in, the toll on food, many have gained weight. Routinely, my German buddy told me, the question is asked: ‘‘Do you think I gained weight during lockdown?’’ And the answer could come thus: ‘‘You have never really been slim.’’ The death pangs come with regularity that a morbid joke when news of death is announced is: ‘‘Time of death: 11:45 a.m.’’ and ‘‘Cause of death: Corona.’’ Here is another about the Germans courtesy of ‘‘What do you call panic-buying of sausage and cheese in Germany? The wurst-kase scenario.’’ The Brits have offered a variant. An Instagram posting by Pantiles reads, ‘‘If you would like to know how it feels to be in the hospitality during this coronavirus pandemic? Remember when the titanic was sinking, the band continued to play?…we were the band.” This is why Team Elle notes that the British are good at making light of the situation as the ‘‘first port of call defence mechanism, to soothe collective anxiety.’’ Another posting from Creative Agency reads: Eventually, everyone will be quarantined to their houses with no sport to watch…and in nine months from now a boom of babies will be born…and we will call them coronials.” Similarly, there is this joke: ‘‘If there’s a baby boom nine months from now, what will happen in 2033? There will be a whole bunch of quaranteens.’’

America is a huge theatre with a choreographic edge. Faced with the COVID-19 death toll, POTUS labelled it ‘‘Chinese virus.’’ With the prospect of a vaccine not so promising with its clinical hurdles. President Trump assumed the role of the Chief Medical Director and prescribed the use of bleach to cure COVID-19. At White House briefing, William N. Bryan, the acting under secretary for science at the Department of Homeland Security spoke to the effect of the virus susceptibility to bleach and alcohol. A petulant president cut in and said, ‘‘One minute… And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that.’ Never mind, POTUS said, he was being sarcastic.


POTUS even tossed out from the White House, Mick Mulvaney, Acting Chief of Staff, for coughing. ‘‘Let’s do that over. He’s coughing in the middle of my answer…I don’t like that, you know, I don’t like that.’’ It is caution inside the White House, and bravado in public. President Trump even mocked his democratic challenger, Joe Biden for wearing a big mask. He made the point that he wore mask only when necessary. In response to Chris Wallace’s question during the first presidential debate on September 29, he enthused: “I put a mask on, you know, when I think I need it. Tonight is an example, everybody has had a test…I wear a mask when needed. When needed, I wear masks.”And to Biden, he said, ‘‘I don’t wear masks like him. Every time you see him, he’s got a mask…could be speaking 200 feet away…shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.’’ Much earlier in Pennsylvania, Trump asked his hearers if they knew ‘‘a man that likes a mask as much’’ in reference to Biden. He further added that,

‘‘It gives him a feeling of security…If I was a psychiatrist, I’d say this guy has some big issues.’’

From you find some rib-cracking jokes: ‘Who’s idea was it to sing “Happy Birthday” while washing your hands? Now every time I go to the bathroom, my kids expect me to walk out with a cake.’ Another reads: ‘My mom always told me I wouldn’t accomplish anything by lying in bed all day. But look at me now, ma! I’m saving the world!’ Together we can save the world by observing the COVID-19 protocols.

Akhaine is a Professor of Political Science at the Lagos State University.


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