Covid-19: Has the Government lost the plot?

Government cannot mask the disquieting scale of infection in the country by hiding and tampering with the actual statistics of daily new cases

By Mrinal Roy

There is a marked surge in the number of new cases of Covid-19 infection in the country since the beginning of August. From 18 August to 25 August a total of 2607 new cases of infection have been detected in the country, which means an average of 325 new cases of infection per day. The number of daily new cases which were in single or double digits in April has jumped to three digits in August.

Despite the daily assertion in the official government communique that most of the cases of coronavirus infection are asymptomatic, this cannot hide the alarming fact that the scale and extent of infection is patent evidence that the virus is rampant in the country. Many enterprises, the workplace, offices, dormitories, hospitals, schools, prisons, police stations and random locations across the country have all become centres of infection.

This unprecedented situation in the country has heightened the risk of infection while commuting, at the work place, at school or while shopping. People and in particular the elderly are justifiably scared to go out. Is this an efficient or sensible way to manage the Covid-19 pandemic when we are yet to vaccinate the whole eligible population?

It is not rocket science to understand that what is important is not that the high number of cases of coronavirus infection in the country is asymptomatic but that they are all carriers of the virus and that the multitude of infected persons who remain undetected risk spreading the Covid-19 infection in the community even more. Has the government strategy of opening up the economy driven by their new mantra of ‘learning to live with the virus’, before first breaking its chain of transmission in the community backfired?

Questionable stratagems

Government cannot therefore mask the disquieting scale of Covid-19 infection in the country by hiding and tampering with the actual statistics of daily new cases. These statistics must be publicly available in a transparent manner. The format used to present the Covid-19 statistics has already been tweaked. The new stated policy of effecting PCR tests only on persons aged more than 65 years who are not vaccinated, have a condition of comorbidity, been in contact with infected persons and show symptoms of Covid-19 infection is therefore patently shortsighted and extremely irresponsible. It occults and does not provide a true picture of the state of coronavirus infection in the country. The stark reality as attested daily through PCR testing is that a fully vaccinated person can be infected and asymptomatic but remains a carrier of the virus. The infected persons are vectors of infection who can infect others in the community as well as children who are not vaccinated.

Such questionable stratagems risk causing the number of cases to rise even more with adverse fallouts such as an increase in Covid-19 hospitalization and a rising death toll. There is therefore an imperative need at a time when cases of Covid-19 infection are rife to urgently take robust measures to first and foremost contain the spread of the virus by breaking its chain of transmission in the community.

We must remember that the country is scheduled to reopen its borders to tourists as from 1 October when vaccinated international travellers will be welcomed in without restrictions. The present rate and extent of infection in the country risk affecting the classification of Mauritius as a Covid-safe tourist destination. There is also a real risk that tourists are infected during their stay in the country. Such a situation would be extremely detrimental to the tourist industry. Has the government lost the plot?

The present situation is patently fraught with serious risks. This is not the time for stratagems but for bold and determinant actions to turn around a perilous situation, save lives and protect a sector of crucial importance to the economy. It is therefore imperative to urgently take every action necessary to stem the pervasive spread of the virus in the country and make Mauritius Covid-safe again ahead of the opening of our frontiers on 1 October. There is still time to act. This is a necessary step if we want to break the chain of Covid infection in the country. This is feasible provided the necessary robust actions are urgently taken as Mauritius has the advantage of being an island and a small country.

New factors

We must realize that the situation regarding the pandemic in the world is constantly evolving. A series of important developments are reshaping the Covid-19 situation. They have a direct bearing on the management of the pandemic in the world.

The Delta variant of coronavirus is now the dominant strain in many countries across the world. Amongst the 65 countries which have registered Covid cases caused by the Delta variant, those most affected include UK, US, Denmark, Germany, France, Singapore, Mexico, South Africa, Japan and Russia. The share of Delta variant detected vary between 99.8% (UK) and 69.6% (France), two countries which are our principal sources of tourists. In such a context every precaution must be taken to prevent the highly transmissible Delta virus from entering the country and infecting people.

At the beginning of August, Pfizer (which is the only vaccine approved for use on children of 12 years and above) and Moderna raised the price of their Covid-19 vaccine. These biopharmaceutical companies are set to obtain tens of billions of dollars in revenue this year as they sign new deals with countries anxious to secure supplies for potential booster shots in the face of the spread of the highly infectious Delta coronavirus variant.

Third dose

At a time when the latest data from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) show that around half of the population in high-income countries have been vaccinated whereas barely more than 1% have been vaccinated in low-income countries, many countries are planning for a booster third dose. After Israel and Hungary, many of the largest nations in Europe, as well as the US have started or are planning to administer a booster dose of Covid-19 vaccine to protect their population. The protection period of Covid-19 vaccines is not yet clearly established from the data available, However, the thumb rule envisaged to beef up the vaccine protection is a booster third dose some 10-12 months after being fully vaccinated.

We must remember that there is already a scarcity of vaccines in the world owing to production and other constraints to meet global demand. A third booster dose administered in rich and other countries renders availability of and access to Covid-19 vaccines to low-income countries even more difficult.

This is an extremely controversial decision at a time when billions of people are still waiting for Covid-19 vaccines. It is an untenable situation as the battle against the pandemic will not be won until the whole world is vaccinated and protected. The World Health Organization has thus asked countries to hold off on booster doses until at least the end of September, by which time it hopes that at least 10 percent of every country’s population will be vaccinated.

Way forward

There are health, economic and moral implications for failing to vaccinate the world as evenly and fairly as possible. The world has to fight the battle against the pandemic together. However, vaccine inequity remains a major constraint. According to the WorldHealth Organization over 3.5 billion vaccines have been distributed globally, but more than 75% of those have gone to just ten countries. This lopsided vaccination drive is already causing major supply bottlenecks to meet rising demand fuelled by economic recovery in rich countries.

This is not therefore the time to pander to narrow parochial interests but for solidarity and generosity among the caucus of world nations. The only sensible and viable way forward is for the world to address and overcome the pandemic in a holistic manner with every country including the most vulnerable on board. Not to do so is to shoot ourselves in the foot.

* Published in print edition on 27 August 2021

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