During the year of 2020 while Covid–19 was rapidly spreading out to become a worldwide pandemic, one of the effects it has on human behaviour as seen on television pictures – but not widely reported in other media – was, and still is, on the crowds of spectators at sports events.

In many cases there was just a reduction in the size of the crowds. However, at events such as premier league football matches where stadiums have traditionally hosted full capacity crowds, the areas of empty seats appeared to be considerably larger than those where presumably regular fans usually used every (or virtually every) seat available.

One of these fans commented during a TV interview that “the players look like they are not bothering to try” and added that he would “not be coming again until this ‘Covidemic’, or whatever you call it, is finished and over with”.

Watching this on TV brought back a now 25-year-old memory of when I was lucky enough to be offered a ticket to that now famous rugby World Cup final between New Zealand and South Africa at Ellis Park – as it was still called in 1995.

South Africa was then still in the throes of grinding its way slowly out of apartheid but suddenly took a leap forward when a picture of Joel Stransky`s superb match-winning drop goal along with one of President Mandela presenting the trophy to South African Captain François Pienaar made international front-page news. These images still remain as indelible items in our history.

Many sporting figures who have achieved renown acknowledge how spectators, especially applauding crowds of spectators, somehow raise their abilities as well as the skills of whole teams to levels producing more successes. World Cup 1995 could, conceivably have been blighted by a murderous micro-organism similar to Covid–19 in which case, the result would have been recorded but would probably have not continued to be remembered as the triumph it was for South Africa.

When widespread or global afflictions such as pandemics come into being, they tend to last for lengthy periods until particular people with specialised education, training and experience emerge as leading figures in countering and overcoming them. An outstanding historical example of this is the American, Dr Jonas Salk who created and produced his innovative Salk vaccine which was successfully used to suppress the poliomyelitis pandemic during the 1950s. Now, a year since Covid–19 began spreading out increasingly rapidly around the world, another American scientist with impeccable qualifications and many years of appropriate experience has become globally recognised as one of the leading technical authorities on Corona Viruses.

This specialist microbiologist is Dr Anthony Fauci whose attitude towards Covid–19 viruses is aptly described by his references to them as “Miniature Murderers” and “Tiny Terrorists”.

Anthony Stephen Fauci was born on 24th of December, 1940, in Brooklyn, New York, the second child of first-generation Italian-American parents. He was educated at Regis High School in Manhattan where he also achieved success in sporting activities including being captain of the basketball team.

He then attended New York City’s Cornell Medical College, graduating first in his class. In 1966/67 he completed his internship and residency at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Centre after which, in 1968, he began his long career at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

After taking over as NIAID director in 1984 he became known for his ground-breaking work in HIV-AIDS research, helping to develop effective drugs for reducing seriously high mortality rates. During this period, as a senior investigator in the Laboratory of Clinical Investigation, Fauci started building a reputation for his innovative research in the highly specialised field of immunoregulation and he succeeded in developing successful drug treatment programmes for illnesses such as polyarteritis nodosa, granulomatosis with polyangiitis and lymphomatoid granulomatosis all of which had previously been normally fatal.

One of the problems Fauci had to deal with when he began his work was that HIV-AIDS was known at that time primarily for its devastation across gay communities. He was therefore confronted with persuading the administration to take his work seriously as well as convincing activists that he was not at fault for any perceived government inaction. Crucially, he studied how HIV attacks the human defence system enabling novel and effective medications to be created giving HIV-positive people opportunities to live long, active lives.

Following his experiences and recognition of representing the government in respect of AIDS research, Fauci came to the fore again to confront public health threats during administrations  including the West Nile virus under President Bill Clinton; the anthrax scare and SARS under Bush and the Swine Flu pandemic under Barack Obama.

One anecdote tells how Fauci, in addition to his technical virtuosity, showed a particularly human emotion when in 2014 he embraced and hugged an American nurse who had just recovered from the Ebola disease. Later that same year, he travelled to Liberia to oversee large-scale clinical trials of anti–Ebola vaccines. Over the following five years or so, Fauci has concentrated on guiding and leading US government efforts in combatting outbreaks of the West Nile virus, SARS and Ebola before becoming more prominently involved in 2020 with the coronavirus pandemic.

Following reports of the novel coronavirus emerging in China at the beginning of 2020, Fauci rapidly assembled and activated his research team primarily to start working on a vaccine. While Covid-19 was producing increasing numbers of casualties as it spread throughout more and more countries, he worked with his colleagues at the Centres for Disease Control to prepare the American public for what he was quite certain would grow into a new global pandemic.

Fauci normally attended news briefings along with President Donald Trump. His expertise and long experience were valuable when needed to modify the issues inherent in Trump`s tendency to make overly optimistic presidential pronouncements concerning the fields of infective diseases. A good example of this was Trump claiming that Covid–19 could be a ‘game-changer’ when compared to the anti-malaria drug, Hydroxychloroquine.

Fauci rejected this as an assertion which was entirely “anecdotal” thereby bringing Trump`s mistaken ideas of the medicinal capabilities of Covid–19 more in line with reality. Also, when the President declared that the country could re-open by Easter, Fauci was one of the advisers who insisted that this time scale be dropped as it was clearly not achievable.

The doctor’s calm but no-nonsense assessments were further personal attributes raising his image up to celebrity status as the country endured an unprecedented shutdown. High tension in this situation also led to death threats from extremists who felt he was undermining the President’s authority. His position also occasionally placed him at odds with other members of the administration, particularly when he summarily rejected Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s unsupported assertion that the virus had originated in a Chinese laboratory.

In May 2020, Fauci warned the Senate Health, Education, Labour and Pensions Committee that reopening the country too quickly would probably lead to “suffering and death that could be avoided.” He was also involved in a sharp exchange with Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who noted that others were also qualified to make decisions about whether it was safe to send children back to school. “I have never made myself out to be the end-all and only voice in this,” Fauci said, adding that “We don’t know everything about this virus. And we really better be very careful, particularly when it comes to children.”

With respect to awards and honours, Fauci has earned many of the most prestigious ones available to people in his field including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of Science and the Mary Woodard Lasker Award for Public Service. In 2019, he was among the inaugural class inducted into the Government Hall of Fame. Fauci has also been awarded 45 honorary doctoral degrees from universities around the world and is a member of organisations such as the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.

In 1985 Fauci married Christine Grady whom he had met when she was a nurse at the NIH and assisted Fauci by doing translations for a Portuguese-only speaking patient. Christine is now chief of the Department of Bioethics at the NIH Clinical Centre. The Faucis live in Washington, D.C. and have three daughters. Fauci himself developed a reputation around the Capital for his gruelling 16-hour workdays and seven-mile lunchtime runs; although he has now had to reduce his running to about half of this distance since the onset of the Coronavirus outbreak. He also enjoys fishing, tennis, cooking and art within the constraints of his now severely limited free time.

Going back to earlier comments about crowds at sporting events, it is pleasing to see how these crowds are already becoming noticeably larger due to the massive achievements made in combining international commitments for creating vaccines and then getting them injected into more and more people as quickly as possible. This is heartening to see as visible evidence of success in the continuing battle against the smallest semi-organism ever to create a plague on the scale of a global pandemic.