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Fascinating story of Dr. Anthony Fauci in Coronavirus times

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Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
The author is practicing advocate in the Madras High Court

This is a story to behold. A fascinating one in the lives and times of Coronavirus. It relates to an eighty year old medical professional who has devoted his entire professional career of 50 years to public service. And served 7 Presidents, one after another. He has been a devoted and dedicated public servant who has sacrificed his personal advancement, even while many who had served under him, went on to research and landed with a Nobel prize. Not he. He steadfast did not switch positions and has become an icon, at all of 80 years. He now is the most important member of White House Coronavirus Task Force- led by the Vice President Mike Pence, under the overall authority of Donald J Trump, as the President. That is where things become very interesting.

The story is about Dr. Anthony Fauci. Dr. Fauci was appointed director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases- NIAID in 1984. He oversees an extensive portfolio of basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose, and treat established infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, respiratory infections, diarrheal diseases, tuberculosis and malaria as well as emerging diseases such as Ebola and Zika. NIAID also supports research on transplantation and immune-related illnesses, including autoimmune disorders, asthma and allergies. That he is now leading the war on Coronavirus, is inspirational not only to Americans but comforting to the entire world. For, he has always believed,” I serve the cause of humanity, Americans included. It has been no different all these years, and it shall be no different this time round”.

The sad part of it is that Donald J Trump showed no sensitivity to the virus spread, to start with. He proclaimed to his never flinching base that “This virus scare is another hoax perpetrated by the Do Nothing Democrats, as they failed to get me impeached. It will wash away and miraculously be gone.”Scientists and experts who had recorded these Pandemic outbreaks every other century, so to say since 1720, then 1820, 1920 and now in 2020 , were furious and aghast. Trump’s megaphone in FoxNews, a powerful instrument, belonging to the Australian media moghul Rupert Murdoch, went to town with Trump’s disdain.

Enter Dr.Fauci. There has been a 180 degrees pivot. He has put sense into the task force and has played a huge part in leading the charge despite and in spite of Trump’s prognostications to the contrary, every now and then, Yes, Trump has pivoted too and his FoxNews And Friends too are sheepishly and shamelessly, seen to be covering up their recorded tracks. It is singularly due to this good Doctor that America is now seriously at the fore front of this war, on the invisible enemy that Trump has tauntingly christened as ‘Chinese virus’, ignoring protestations from the Chinese and well meaning entities, including Dr.Fauci.

Every time Trump goes on air to address the Americans and the world, on live television, Dr.Fauci stands next to him on the left. And Dr.Fauci gets to speak as well. That is where the interesting facets emerge, to make it a fascinating story to be shared. In an absolutely delightful interview given to the globally recognised Science magazine, on 22nd March, 2020, Dr. Anthony Fauci has shared his thoughts in the Coronavirus challenge in the Trump era.“What a man to have in the midst of a world war with Coronavirus with a corroding virus in the White House”, as an offensive tweet read.

He opens up the speedy interview, as he was rushing to the White House for a Task Force briefing, with a grin, “Well, I’m sort of exhausted. But other than that, I’m good. I mean, I’m not, to my knowledge, Coronavirus infected. To my knowledge, I haven’t been fired,” and diplomatically adds “Well, that’s pretty interesting because to his [President Trump’s] credit, even though we disagree on some things, he listens. He goes his own way. He has his own style. But on substantive issues, he does listen to what I say.”

As for his advice to the entire world to practice Social Distancing and it going missing in the Task Force proceedings and the briefing, Dr.Fauci is not giving up yet, “Yes, I say that to the task force. I say that to the staff. We should not be doing that. Not only that–we should be physically separating a bit more on those press conferences. To his credit, the Vice President [Mike Pence] is really pushing for physical separation of the task force [during meetings]. He keeps people out of the room–as soon as the room gets like more than 10 people or so, it’s ‘Out, everybody else out, go to a different room.’

So with regard to the task force, the Vice President is really a bear in making sure that we don’t crowd 30 people into the Situation Room, which is always crowded. So he’s definitely adhering to that. The situation on stage [for the press briefings] is a bit more problematic. I keep saying, is there any way we can get a virtual press conference. Thus far, no. But when you’re dealing with the White House, sometimes you have to say things 1,2,3,4 times, and then it happens. So I’m going to keep pushing.” Ever so politely persuasive.

When confronted with Trump’s accusations on China’s ‘secretive conduct’ and calling it the ‘Chinese virus’, very innocently Dr.Fauci responds, “I know, but what do you want me to do? I mean, seriously let’s get real, what do you want me to do?” And added for emphasis, in his own mildly grandfatherly mode, “The way it happened is that after he made that statement [suggesting China could have revealed the discovery of a new Coronavirus three to four months earlier], I told the appropriate people, it doesn’t comport, because two or three months earlier would have been September. The next time they sit down with him and talk about what he’s going to say, they will say, by the way, Mr. President, be careful about this and don’t say that. But I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down. OK, he said it. Let’s try and get it corrected for the next time.”

While he answered every question tossed at him, no matter the Trump connect, just for one specific query, which occasion has gone viral, he declined to answer. Q: At Friday’s press conference, you put your hands over your face when President Trump referred to the “deep State Department,” [a popular conspiracy theory]. It’s even become an Internet meme. Have you been criticized for what you did? Answer: No comment.

The whole of America and the world is astounded how this 80 year old is managing to tackle Trump, more than the virus itself. Many a public servant has fallen by the wayside. First to go was the tough nut in FBI Chief James Comey. And many more have been shown the door even by a tweet. But, this octogenarian who has easily survived 6 earlier Presidents, those who insisted on his continuance, and never let him go, may find his survival now dependent on the longevity of the survival of Coronavirus Pandemic itself.

(Author- Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan- is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)

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Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
The author is practicing advocate in the Madras High Court
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