Can we risk opening our borders?
It is better for the country and the government to be overcautious than to be foolhardy and irresponsible
By Mrinal Roy
It took six months for the world to register 10 million cases of coronavirus. Despite the application of various sanitary measures and the enforcement of lockdowns by countries across the world to contain the spread of the virus, it took only six weeks for the number of Covid-19 cases in the world to double. Coronavirus cases increased from 3 to 10 million in 38 days and rose from 15 to 20 million in only 20 days. The upshot is that Covid-19 is very much present in our midst across the world and is spreading faster than before.
Statistics compiled by Johns Hopkins University reveal that the United States, Brazil, India, South Africa, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Argentina, Russia and the Philippines are the top 10 countries accounting most new cases of Covid-19 since July 22. Countries such as Israel, Australia, Peru, Japan, Germany, South Korea or New Zealand which had recorded initial success in containing the spread of the virus are now registering a spike in infections. The worldwide tally of recorded cases of Covid-19 in 188 countries has now exceeded 24 million. More than 830,000 people have died from the virus.
Some of the worst hit countries are those like the United States, Brazil or Mexico whose leaders have ignored the advice of health experts and resisted calls for strict lockdowns and the rigorous application of social distancing and hygiene rules and the wearing of masks.
“The decision to open our borders is not a decision that the government and a cohort of politicians again trying to play god can take on their own. The people must have their say on the matter as it concerns their safety, the risks to their lives and that of their families. Ask the people if they want our borders to be opened in the present state of the Covid-19 infection in the world and in particular in countries which are our main sources of tourists such as France, the UK, Germany, South Africa, Reunion, India or China? The spontaneous answer from the multitude is a horrified: No!…”
Surge in Covid-19 cases
There is thus a surge in Covid-19 infection in many countries. Latin America is the current epicentre of the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization. Brazil has the second highest number of cases in the world, after the US, whereas Mexico has the second highest death toll in the region after Brazil. Colombia, Peru, Argentina and Venezuela have all recorded a surge in cases of Covid-19. In Asia, India, Indonesia and Iran have all registered a rise in the number of cases of coronavirus infection whereas in Africa, the number of Covid-19 cases has exceeded one million with South Africa and Egypt being the worst hit countries. South Africa is one of the seven countries in the world to record more than 500,000 cases of coronavirus.
In Europe, Spain, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom and France have reported a rise in cases in recent weeks following the lifting of lockdown restrictions. In France, the average number of new daily cases has doubled during the last three weeks to 2000 a day. With schools opening on 1 September, the government has decreed that the wearing of masks in schools is mandatory. Italy has closed nightclubs again and made the wearing of masks compulsory. The spike in cases in Germany has been caused by the return of large numbers of German tourists from their holidays in Covid-19 affected countries. The UK has also enforced stricter restrictions in various areas including on the populous city of Birmingham. A number of countries have re-imposed localized lockdowns in their worst-affected regions. In Reunion, the wearing of masks has become mandatory in various localities and a range of restrictions have been imposed following a marked surge of new cases on the island.
Whilst older people accounted for the largest share of cases in the early months of the coronavirus outbreak in March and April, it is the 20 to 39-year-olds who now represent up to 40% of new infections in France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium. Data from national agencies show that surges in Covid-19 cases in countries across Europe are due largely to a rise in infections among young people.
In order to protect public health and safeguard the people from the risks of infected carriers of the virus entering the UK from countries which have recorded a surge in cases of Covid-19, the UK government has imposed a14-day self isolation period on all travellers from France, the Netherlands, Spain, Andorra, Belgium, Luxembourg, Monaco, Malta, Turks and Caicos, and Aruba.
“Italy has closed nightclubs again and made the wearing of masks compulsory. The spike in cases in Germany has been caused by the return of large numbers of German tourists from their holidays in Covid-19 affected countries. The UK has also enforced stricter restrictions in various areas including on the populous city of Birmingham. A number of countries have re-imposed localized lockdowns in their worst-affected regions. In Reunion, the wearing of masks has become mandatory in various localities and a range of restrictions have been imposed following a marked surge of new cases on the island…”
Mauritius therefore enjoys a comforting sense of safety as there are no local cases of coronavirus in the country. With Covid-19 raging across the world, Mauritius remains a Covid-19 free haven so long as we keep our borders closed. Being an island adds an additional barrier of protection against the risks of infection. The people and the country are fully aware that Covid-19 was imported in Mauritius through carriers of the virus who were either foreign visitors from infected countries, Mauritians working on cruise vessels or repatriated nationals.
With the exception of the tourism sector, most of the important sectors of the economy have rebooted their activities under strict sanitary conditions and are adapting their strategies to surmount the challenges and seize the opportunities of a Covid-19 afflicted world. Mauritius being Covid-19 free, people feel safe to carry on with their daily business without the fear of infection. For example the sugar cane harvest is progressing normally with mask wearing cane cutters from different localities working and travelling together confident that they are safe from Covid-19. Exports are bustling again. The economy is gathering momentum and the informal sector is back in business.
A resumption of economic activities means a reduction of the government outlay on support measures to help the economic actors and employees tide over the adverse fallouts of the Covid-19 crisis. The country has also once again woken up to the short-sightedness of the government policy of heavily skewing through very generous incentives the main investment thrust of the economy towards real estate projects and smart cities dependent on the sale of high end villas and properties priced in hundreds of millions of rupees to wealthy foreigners.
Despite such a grim international outlook caused by the rampant spread of Covid-19 in the world, there is a pressing lobbying from different quarters in the country to open our borders to enable the revival of the tourism sector forced into inactivity by the closure of our borders. Some political leaders are even callously sounding the alarm bells of the tourism sector losing market shares when the overriding consideration in a Covid-19 afflicted world should above all be about taking every precaution necessary to ensure that the lives of the people in the country are securely protected against a very contagious and deadly virus.
The decision to open our borders is not a decision that the government and a cohort of politicians again trying to play god can take on their own. The people must have their say on the matter as it concerns their safety, the risks to their lives and that of their families. Ask the people if they want our borders to be opened in the present state of the Covid-19 infection in the world and in particular in countries which are our main sources of tourists such as France, the UK, Germany, South Africa, Reunion, India or China? The spontaneous answer from the multitude is a horrified: No! Do the employees of the tourism sector, the hotel staff and all those who would be in direct contact with tourists want our borders to be opened, despite all sanitary precautions taken?
No amount of testing, sanitary precautions and elaborate screening protocols can guarantee that the influx of tens of thousands of tourists in the country every month in the present pervasive state of Covid-19 infection in the world would not import the virus and trigger a new wave of infection in the country. Experience with the repatriation of a few thousand nationals has shown that despite being tested negative prior to embarkation, some among the repatriated were found to be Covid-19 positive when tested on arrival or during their quarantine period. Can we seriously take the risk of allowing undetected foreign carriers of coronavirus infect the hotel staff, the frontline employees of the tourism sector and the population at large? This is why some key economic actors of the tourist industry have sensibly declared their opposition to the opening of our borders.
It is better for the country and the government to be overcautious than to be foolhardy and irresponsible. As a nation, are we prepared to jeopardize the broad range of sectors of the economy which are striving to restore their activities to pre-Covid-19 levels and risk the trauma and heavy costs of a resurgence of coronavirus infection in the country for the sake of the tourism sector? Do we want the green shoots of recovery to be nipped in the bud? Are we prepared to endanger the pervasive sense of safety in the country obtained through our collective discipline to contain and make the country Covid-19 free by taking the rash decision to open our frontiers to tourists? Are those lobbying to open our borders to tourists callously ready to recklessly risk exposing the people to a resurgence of Covid-19 infection and casualties in the country? Are they blindly courting another costly and life threatening catastrophe after the Wakashio disaster through inept and misguided decisions? Can we as a nation irresponsibly make the elderly, the ailing and other vulnerable groups in the country once again endure the fear, trauma, solitude and precarity of another wave of Covid-19 infection in the country?
Can we take the risk of a resurgence of Covid-19 which will once again put undue pressure on all the frontline workers of the country who have so valiantly fought the virus and helped save lives during the first wave of infection and risk overwhelming the health services of the country? Can we again put their lives at risk? A resurgence of Covid-19 in the country will trigger strict confinement rules and a costly lockdown which will shut down economic activities, further slump the tourism sector and halt the sugar harvest and the resurgence of the other key sectors of the formal and informal economy. It will blow up the costs of diverse government support measures and wage assistance and self-employed assistance schemes and undermine government finances. Schools and the University would be closed causing added hardships to students.
There cannot be any risky tradeoff between the safety and lives of the hotel staff, those working in the tourism sector and the people at large and the parochial objective of bolstering the tourism sector against the backdrop of the potent threat of the Covid-19 pandemic in the world. People cannot be made to serve as cannon fodder to save the tourism sector from its present setback. The tourism sector will bounce back and every support must be given to the sector to sustain it over the Covid-19 crisis, especially as major developments in scientific research provide potent hopes that efficient treatments and vaccines are on track and could be available sooner than expected.
Let us not court another costly disaster when we can sensibly avoid it.
* Published in print edition on 25 August 2020
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