An amusing analogy from a minister
We do not know enough about viruses. The same can be said of the coronavirus, such as COVID-19 and its variants. We will be the first to admit we are no expert in virology. What we know, we learned from media coverage of the pandemic, such as one report in The Straits Times yesterday. Covering health minister Ong Ye Kung’s visit to a farmers’ market in Woodlands, the editorial quoted Mr Ong commenting on existing hybrid mutants: “There are plenty of variants, but many of them are like us humans. Today you wear this earring, tomorrow you change your earring. That’s all it is. You’re still the same person”. It would never occur to us to liken coronavirus infection to the wearing of accessories, but there it was in the third paragraph of the ST story. We can’t say we were not impressed by the originality.
Mr Ong has never spoken about fashion, as far as we are aware. He is not Sim Ann or the occasional shoe designer Indranee Rajah. Yet, it was the choice of ear ornaments that illustrated the existence of variants still infecting many people. He did not even pick clothing, which we assume would come more naturally. The non-essential is perhaps easier to cite than the essential? The shape of the coronavirus possibly evocative of an earring? Rather than have us guessing, the writer of the article could have provided an explanation: What did Mr Ong really mean? Was he saying that the many variants of the coronavirus are like the plurality of humans? That they pick and change their victims in the same manner as people selecting and replacing their earrings? A harmless act? And in the end, they are the same pathogen? That’s all it is?
Earrings, unlike the human coronavirus, have a much longer history. Jewellery attached to the ear, from the helix to the lobe, is considered to be one of the oldest forms of body modifications. There are, however, no written records about the use of earrings in early times. In the Exodus story, Moses’s elder brother Aaron (and later, the first high priest of the Israelites) commanded his people: “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, sons and daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” He then turned all that gold into a calf. Closer home, gold earrings were found in India’s Lothal, an ancient site of the Indus Valley Civilisation that dates back to 2200BCE. Comparatively, the human coronavirus was first identified rather recently—in 1965, the year of this nation’s independence. Coming from the Minister of Health, there must be a serious connection between the coronavirus and earrings. We, on the other hand, could have been flippant if we had compared COVID to Cartier.
Illustration: Just So