An Opportunity to Reset Buttons

The lockdown has, both by default and by design, unlocked possibilities for the future. The future is already here – and we had better not miss the boat

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

As we learn in Public Health, every disease has a health, an economic and a social impact, which is usually restricted to the patient and his family. However, when the disease is of epidemic or pandemic nature, which calls for large-scale interventions by the national authorities, the impact is correspondingly more serious and has wider implications for the country – as the current Covid-19 pandemic is showing. Even as governments in all countries are struggling to get transmission of the virus under control, in the short period of a few weeks it has practically brought the world down to its knees. What is certain is that there will have to be a rethink of how things will have to be rolled out in the aftermath which, by all accounts, is going to be a protracted one.

But one can turn this adversity into an opportunity to reset some buttons in a bid to put the country back on a better footing, based on the new realities and concerns that the pandemic has forced upon us.

“Fortunately or fortuitously, the metro has been up and running and, save for the couple of untoward incidents that took place, in general to the satisfaction of the users in terms of comfort, cleanliness, and duration of journey among other things. In fact there is anecdotal evidence that people are looking forward to the prompt completion of the planned extensions up to Mahebourg so that they can begin to travel by the metro. This presents a tremendous opportunity to reduce traffic congestion through diminished car usage…”


An obvious one directly related to health is the tourism sector, which is beset by a number of problems that will affect influx: affordability, airline access, trust in the country as a healthy destination – perhaps the factor that will be uppermost in the mind of prospective visitors with respect in particular to Covid-19. We have less control on the first two elements than on the third one, for which the way forward is to ensure the robustness of our Public Health System, which would include a framework for prevention, detection, sanitary arrangements and treatment that meet international standards, something which is doable, as outlined in my article of April 4 in this paper, ‘Wake-up call post Covid-19: Need for a Robust Public Health System’.

A second reset which could be transformational is the transport sector, with fallouts on the economy through reduction in fuel needs/consumption which in turn would have an environmental benefit. Fortunately or fortuitously, the metro has been up and running and, save for the couple of untoward incidents that took place, in general to the satisfaction of the users in terms of comfort, cleanliness, and duration of journey among other things. In fact there is anecdotal evidence that people are looking forward to the prompt completion of the planned extensions up to Mahebourg so that they can begin to travel by the metro.

This presents a tremendous opportunity to reduce traffic congestion through diminished car usage – for, if Covid-19 has shown that we are all equal and this mindset carries over, then hopefully there should be no reluctance on the part of white collar workers to use the metro, which may hopefully become a preferred mode of transport for a majority of commuters.

The challenge is how to make habitual car owner-users get out of their vehicles and take (to) the metro instead? The starting point would be to facilitate their trip to the metro stations and stops. Currently feeder buses are being used. Perhaps a scheme could be worked out for these to be initially supplemented then eventually replaced altogether by the smaller 15 or 30-seater vans plying more frequently and picking up people nearer to their residences, much like the former ‘Tip-top’ buses used to do.

“One can see some resets initiated during the lockdown poised to assume an accrued role in future, for example in the secondary and tertiary educational sectors, where e-learning is definitely set to become mainstream: the Open University model. There is equally potential to expand platforms in the work-from-home initiatives that are already in motion, and these should be implemented more widely in the public sector…”

With school attendances being re-scheduled, at least a proportion of the vehicles being used for school transport could be allowed to be redeployed – each being assigned to specific localities – to service the metro, thus ensuring livelihood and sustainability that span more than one sector of activity. The point is that the further rolling out of the metro looks like presenting openings for cross-cutting gains that will compensate for loss elsewhere, and reduce the risks of families becoming unable to make ends meet. This is about the medium and long terms, and thus about the country’s future.

Furthermore, more people using the metro would mean less cars on the road – and less cars needed in the country overall. From both a traffic and an environmental point of view, could this be also an occasion to seriously think about putting a cap on the numbers of cars we are importing? The mushrooming of outlets for second hand and reconditioned cars, as well as the expansion of the luxury car sector has been increasing the vehicular fleet, and thus traffic congestion as well.

Besides, experts may figure out whether this as well impacts the foreign exchange reserves of the country, which is already heavily indebted – and more loans adding to the burden with the population kept in the dark about the trade-offs that are being negotiated. We can ill afford more debts in the post Covid-19 scenario, with a recession foreseen that is going to be worse than the Great Depression of 1929, and several times greater than the financial crisis of 2007. So there is no time to lose in charting out new ways in sectors that are a potential drain on the country’s finances, in reducing non-essential expenditures and redirecting finance towards supporting the more basic needs of the people.

In the same line of thought is the idea of pedestrian zones in the larger shopping conurbations, both urban and rural, with a shuttle service from parking areas at the periphery (e.g. La Vigie in Curpipe) to be organized by the local authorities.

Going forward, one can see some resets initiated during the lockdown poised to assume an accrued role in future, for example in the secondary and tertiary educational sectors, where e-learning is definitely set to become mainstream: the Open University model. There is equally potential to expand platforms in the work-from-home initiatives that are already in motion, and these should be implemented more widely in the public sector.

The lockdown has, both by default and by design, unlocked possibilities for the future. The future, that is, is already here – and we had better not miss the boat.


* Published in print edition on 1 May 2020

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