In simpler times, a virus was something you stayed at home to recover from. Now, doctors, on each and every TV news channel, advise us to stay at home to avoid the “Almighty Coronavirus’’ as TV9 News called it.
In simpler times, Indians didn’t know what to make of toilet paper, let alone use it. Now, an unhappy Indian student in Australia complains bitterly to India Ahead, “We are not getting toilet rolls.”
In simpler times, ‘flatten the curve’ meant increasing the number of stomach crunches to achieve a flat midriff. Now, from Al Jazeera to News X, TV anchors who have become overnight experts, pull out graphs with humps of varying sizes to explain that if we practice all that they preach, we can delay the speed at which people are infected with COVID-19: got it?
In simpler times, the term ‘social distancing‘ didn’t exist. Now, it’s everyone’s preventive prescription for COVID-19 but anyone who has been watching TV, carefully, will have noticed that nobody’s listening—worse, nobody’s bothering to practise it.
For example, if you watched US President Donald Trump Monday or Tuesday at his coronavirus press conferences, he was definitely not socially distancing himself from Vice-President Mike Pence or the impressive galaxy of officials and health administrators he had lined up behind him.
On Tuesday, when we saw Prime Minister Modi with his BJP colleagues at a party meeting, he was definitely not two metres away from those sitting beside him. Likewise in Parliament, where MPs are within air-kissing distance of each other.
And whatever happened to social distancing when Congress leader Digvijaya Singh was shown in a scuffle at Bengaluru, where he had gone to meet rebel Congress MLAs from Madhya Pradesh?
When Times Now and Republic TV visited Shaheen Bagh, their correspondents, wearing face masks, asked the women who are on a sit-in protest if they weren’t scared enough of coronavirus to call off their agitation – in other words, practice social distancing? The women scornfully replied that they feared the Citizenship (Amendment) Act not the virus.
Times Now was visibly annoyed by such irresponsible behaviour: “Protest above health?’’ it asked and went on to remind viewers that the virus could remain active “in air up to 3 hours”.
Celebrity washing hands
And when was the last time you saw so many people wash their hands? Wednesday, we watched cricketer Sachin Tendulkar lather and blather at the same time as he illustrated the perfect hand-washing technique in an Instagram post (CNN News 18). We saw a similar video with actor Judi Dench on BBC World.
If celebrity hand-washing endorsements do not convince you of the need to use wash your hands for 30 seconds whenever you see soap and water near you, India TV presented a computerised analysis that showed white patches around the knuckles, which it said were identical to the germs of the COVID-19 virus. If you washed your hands for only six seconds, these patches remained but these were washed away after a 20-30 second wash.
Busting coronavirus myths
By the way, in the long list of myths that TV news shattered this week, was the one on News 24, where a gentleman claimed that soaking your hands in warm, salt water will keep the novel coronavirus at bay. “Don’t believe such unsubstantiated claims,’’ said the News 24 anchor, “Be careful, be safe.”
Another clever fellow on the streets of Meerut was selling passersby the idea that ‘masala chai’ would rid the virus of its killer instinct—an outraged ABP reporter confronted him with a microphone and demanded an explanation, whereupon the chai wala shrugged.
Not everyone on TV was so dismissive of desi, self-styled cures. K. K. Aggarwal, one of the doctors most frequently called in by TV news to comment on the coronavirus, was asked Wednesday if drinking warm water and gargling with salt water would counter the virus. He replied in an avuncular fashion that whatever keeps us “united” was fine and there was no harm in such remedies. He said that Indians were talking and learning about COVID-19 all the time and that was a good thing, too.
With all due respect to the good doctor, Randeep Guleria’s advice to rapid-fire questions put to him by Rajdeep Sardesai (India Today) was far more reassuring. The AIIMS director spoke calmly and simply – this is exactly what we need TV news channels to do more frequently to reassure us in the critical weeks ahead.
Need to de-stress?
What they may like to avoid is the degree of smug self-congratulation that is creeping into some discussions. Zee News leads the channels who are positive about coronavirus being “beaten” by India. Since the weekend, it has been celebrating “Modi’s mantra’’ against coronavirus.
On Tuesday, anchor Sudhir Chaudhary praised the Narendra Modi government and India for its success so far and rather needlessly compared it to the badly hit Italy, “one of the richest countries”. This proves, he added philosophically, that such viruses do not discriminate.
TV channels are also offering sympathy and counselling: “Are you unnerved? Are you disturbed?” asked India Today, perhaps unintentionally in rhyming questions. “Our experts help your anxiety”. It featured psychologists to help calm your fears.
One of the best ways for many to de-stress at home is to watch sports. However, the novel coronavirus has taken away that comfort too, with all major tournaments cancelled. Last weekend, barring badminton from England, the only live telecast across sports channels, was Pakistan’s PSL T20 tournament (DSport).
Views are personal.