A Protracted Battle

Beyond the anguish and trauma of someone close being infected by Covid-19, there is now the risk of suffering from the debilitating side effects of post-covid syndrome

By Mrinal Roy

The world has now endured more than 16 months of the Covid-19 pandemic. There is however no end to the pandemic in sight. It is obvious to everyone alive to the state of Covid-19 infection in countries across the world and the systemic constraints limiting access to vaccines in developing and poor countries that the battle against Covid-19 will be a very long drawn one. It is not likely to end any time soon.

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Post-covid syndrome

New Covid-19 related health complications threaten to further extend the adverse fallouts of coronavirus in the world. Medical data in the United States, Britain and Israel have shown that after a bout of Covid-19, some people suffer from long covid or post-covid syndrome. This is evidenced by a set of symptoms such as breathlessness, fatigue and ‘brain fog’ which last for at least three months in the aftermath of an infection. ‘Brain fog’ is a medical condition which involves memory problems, a lack of mental clarity and an inability to focus. A similar wave of debilitating ailments was recorded in the wake of the 1918 ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic.

According to ‘The Economist’, more than 500,000 persons have had long covid for more than six months in Britain. The vast majority of these are in their prime working age. Indications are that their chances of full recovery are probably slim. Britain’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that ‘14% of people who have been tested Covid-19 positive have lingering symptoms which last for more than three months’. From their data, ONS also points out that ‘at least 1.1% of Britain’s population, including 1.5% of working-age adults, reported symptoms dragging on for three months or longer.’ If this rate is crudely applied to the 168 million cases of coronavirus infection in the world, it is clear that the dire fallout and costs of the pandemic on public health services would be much longer and more onerous than expected.

No cure

There is no cure for post-covid syndrome. Researchers believe that ‘long covid is due to a combination of a persistent viral infection, a chronic autoimmune disorder and lingering damage to some tissues caused by the Covid-19 infection’. Substantial funds are being poured in related research. However, in the absence of a cure, people suffering from post-covid syndrome have to endure months of rehabilitation to help them cope with the ailment. ‘The Economist’ points out that in some countries such as ‘the Netherlands, employers and employees who are too unwell to work normally are required to come up jointly with a plan to enable the sick employee to return to work under new conditions.’

Beyond the anguish and trauma of someone close being infected by Covid-19, there is now the risk of suffering from the debilitating side effects of post-covid syndrome. The crying lesson to be drawn from the above is that everyone must avoid crowded places, take every precaution required and strictly abide by sanitary and social distancing rules and properly wear masks so as to avoid being infected. The world must also wake up to the urgent imperative of boosting vaccine production to ensure that people across the world not only have access to vaccines but are vaccinated as early as possible to attain herd immunity.

Costly setback

Every new coronavirus case is a costly setback. It delays the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions. It triggers contact tracing operations and requires that all those in contact with infected persons are corralled in quarantine. Launching the necessary protocol to protect the population against the risk of infection every time a case of coronavirus infection is detected in the country is a time consuming and costly exercise.

The new wave of Covid-19 infection in the country remains unabated. More than two months after new cases of coronavirus were detected in the country, 33 new cases were tracked down through contact tracing in two days this week. They are mostly employees of the Waste Water Management Authority. They reside in localities scattered across the country. This raises serious questions about the state of the hygienic and social distancing protocol in place in that institution. 168 persons in contact with those infected had to be put in quarantine. All this adds to the continuously escalating costs of managing the Covid-19 pandemic in the country. It also inordinately delays the prospects of Mauritius becoming covid safe again in the near future.

* * *

Cutting our coat according to our cloth

Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. — John F. Kennedy 

There cannot be progress without hard work, discipline, efficient management, innovative strategies and a professional work ethic. Covid-19 has caused disastrous socio-economic consequences in the country. It has significantly increased public debt which has exceeded 90% of GDP. The IMF has therefore recommended that ‘the government should prepare plans for fiscal consolidation to stabilize public debt in the medium term once Mauritius has firmly emerged from the pandemic, to preserve fiscal sustainability and build buffers.’ It has also advised that ‘the central bank law is being reformed, including to preempt further exceptional transfers to the government, in line with international best practices.’

Limited leeway

The upshot is that the Minister of Finance has very limited leeway and is therefore forced to prepare the forthcoming budget within the straight-jacket of severely strapped government finances. Too many stakeholders of the Mauritian economy do not seem to be alive to this reality. Despite such a grim outlook, some Ministers do not seem to grasp the economic predicament of the country and the constraints under which the Minister of Finance has to operate in. Last week, various Ministers have blithely submitted their tall demands of more social housing and infrastructural projects and more drains, etc., despite strapped government finances. Trade unions are clamouring for work rosters for their members.

This is not the time for tall demands or ill-conceived policies which force firms to close down or relocate abroad. A job offers the only safeguard and insurance policy to grapple with and tide over the dire consequences of the Covid-19 crisis.

Work from home cannot be applicable indiscriminately to all sectors. In many services-driven sectors and professional management consulting services in developed countries, it has recorded a rise in productivity. They demand hard work, long working hours and professional competence. They are not home based vacations.

Untenable

No country can progress if it does not value and promote a culture of hard work, managerial competence, a professional work ethic, a high sense of probity and path-breaking strategies to realize a far better future for all. This is therefore not the time to act like a profligate and improvident grasshopper but be an industrious ant. It is untenable to continue to squander scarce funds in costly white elephants and wasteful expenditures or populist measures the country can ill afford.

If we value our country and wish to protect and improve the future of the young, we all need to unite and team up around these essential values, principles and ethos to put the country back on track. More than ever, we imperatively need to cut our coat according to our cloth.


* Published in print edition on 28 May 2021

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