We cannot stop Covid from what comes naturally to it (mutation), and we will have to make adjustments if we too want to survive as a species
By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
Among the decisions taken by Cabinet during its meeting on Friday 18th are those about the ongoing Covid problem. It was to be expected that in light of the advent of vaccines that have been announced in the UK and the US, there would be some local development in this regard. In fact, we learn that ‘Cabinet has agreed to the setting up of a Special Fund to finance the National Covid-19 Vaccination Programme in the Republic of Mauritius. The Special Fund would be set up, under the Finance and Audit Act to mobilise and manage the funds required for implementing the Programme’.
Covid-19 upsurge in London. Photo – standard.co.uk
Further, the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOH) has come up with a Vaccination Preparation Plan, which is in ‘line with WHO Guidance on developing a national deployment and vaccination plan for Covid-19 vaccines’. MOH has set up Working Groups to look into various issues and implications, which comprise several aspects such as Regulatory Preparedness; Planning and Coordination; Costing and Funding; Target Population; Delivery Strategies; Supply Chain and Healthcare Waste Management; Human Resource Management and training; Vaccines Acceptance and Uptake; Safety Monitoring; Immunisation and Monitoring Systems;COVID-19 surveillance; and Evaluation of Covid-19 Vaccine introduction. There will also be a two-day workshop with a view to elaborating an action plan with relevant stakeholders.
I have had occasion in a previous article to remark about the robustness of our Public Health System, developed over several decades and reinforced over the years to cope with both existing (e.g. malaria) and new (e.g. HIV AIDS, AH1N1) infections. The example of malaria has been the most catching selling point for Mauritius as a tourist destination, since we eliminated – as recognized by WHO – as far back as 1973. We have since remained free of any local infection, having only imported cases because of a rigorous surveillance protocol which amazed a visiting team from the University of Maryland which was here to discuss collaboration in medical education several years ago.
The Vaccination Preparation Plan is clearly a step in the right direction and a pro-active measure which is welcome in light of the prevailing situation in the world. With their experience of achieving a universal immunization coverage that reaches nearly 100% for the past several decades, I have no doubt that our Public Health professionals will be able to confidently pull through the Covid-19 vaccination programme whenever it is rolled out, depending of course on vaccine supplies.
On the other hand, the latest development on the Covid front, as the public would already have heard, is the finding of a new variant of the coronavirus in the UK. Apparently it is about 70% more infectious than the current strain, though so far there is no evidence that it causes more severe disease. Releasing this information has coincided with an ongoing spurt of cases in several advanced countries, amongst others the UK itself, Italy, France, Germany, the US.
As a result, the authorities have perforce had to impose fresh restrictions which are even more stringent so as to prevent further increases in the number of infected cases, and deaths, in health systems that are already overwhelmed (especially in terms of ICU beds available). This is of course coming in the way of Christmas celebrations, plans made months ahead to be with family or friends having to be altered – with much sadness if not anger.
Several European countries have already announced the cancellation of flights to and from the UK, and India also is doing so as from midnight today until 31st December.
Locally, among other Cabinet decisions taken are extension of the quarantine period in Mauritius would from Jan 15 to Feb 15, 2021, and also the prohibition of entry of aircrafts and ships in Mauritius until 15 February 2021, except for those aircrafts and ships as may be approved by the Prime Minister. So we are having to fall in line with these harsher moves to preserve our status as a Covid-safe country as it has remained so far. In effect, it was also noted in Cabinet that – ‘Currently, there were 24 active cases of Covid-19 in Mauritius. As at 18 December 2020, 524 cases of Covid-19 had been registered in Mauritius. The public should observe strict sanitary precautions’. The number of deaths still stands at 10; this contrasts with our neighbouring island of Reunion, of comparable size, where the death toll is 44, and the total number of cases over 8700.
Which goes to say that, despite several hiccups in the management of the pandemic, we have nevertheless been able to contain the epidemic quite well. It is worth noting that even several countries with the most developed health systems in the world were unable to deal properly with Covid-19 in the initial stages, and there were so many contentious issues on the medical and health, economic, social and political fronts. All countries have faced criticisms from their citizens, which is as it should be if it is taken in a spirit of doing so to improve on the arrangements made and in dealing with the ongoing problems – especially those of a human nature, such as stranded citizens – more justly and efficiently.
But we cannot afford to let our arms down, and have to remain as vigilant as ever, because there is a creeping laxity in the compliance with sanitary measures, especially the wearing of masks. There is certainly a need to show a greater sense of responsibility – why, towards ourselves to start with: self-protect will mean everybody is protected – it’s as simple as that.
As regards the mutant in the UK, well, no one can stop any organism – and more so the tiniest ones like viruses — from changing to adapt which, after all, is also a form of self-protection in order to survive and perpetuate. We therefore cannot stop Covid from what comes naturally to it, and we will have to make adjustments if we too want to survive as a species.
The irony is that the Covid-19 virus and its mutations – which occur in what is called the Spike protein – look so beautiful when seen under the microscope, as can be seen in the accompanying picture which accompanies an article on the subject in The Conversation. Almost like a bouquet of flowers you would like to place in a vase to adorn your sitting room!
To be admired from afar… social distancing applies!
* Published in print edition on 22 December 2020
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