Matters of The moment
The country cannot afford to risk a resurgence of the virus and the dire throes and enormous costs of a new lockdown
By Mrinal Roy
The statistics are forbidding. The recent spike in the cases of Covid-19 in countries across the world in the wake of the lifting of lockdown restrictions has raised the alarm bells of a resurgence of the pandemic. From the United States, Brazil and Chile to the UK, Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, South Africa and Australia, the Covid-19 statistics show a marked rise in new cases of infection. New spikes of Covid-19 infection have put the capacity of health services to cope under severe stress.
South Korea worries as virus resurgence spreads. photo – storage.googleapis.com
There seems to be a direct correlation between the lifting of the lockdown restrictions and the sudden rise in new cases of Covid-19 in the world owing to more person-to-person contact and the non respect of social distancing and hygiene norms or the wearing of masks. It is also evident that the premature lifting of the lockdown restrictions in some countries has fuelled the rise in coronavirus cases.
On the 4th of July, the world registered a record 212,326 rise in coronavirus cases over a 24-hour period according to the World Health Organization. This total included 53,213 new cases in the US, 48,105 in Brazil and 19,694 new cases across Europe. This is a marked rise from the previous record of 189,077 of new cases of Covid-19 posted on 28 June.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the renowned American physician and immunologist warned during a hearing in the US Senate on the Covid-19 pandemic last week that the current level of daily increase of new cases in the US could rise under present circumstances to 100,000. Covid-19 cases have risen in 39 of the 50 US states. 15 of these states have reported record number of new cases in July. These include Texas, California, Florida and Arizona where a quarter of all coronavirus detection tests done are positive. Florida, Texas and Arizona are emerging as the country’s latest epicentres of Covid-19 after reporting record numbers of new infections for weeks in a row.
Even the wearing of masks has become a divisive bone of contention in the US between those who want to make a political statement by not wearing masks and those who advocate wearing masks to prevent the spread of the virus. Good sense seems to have prevailed in a context of rising Covid-19 cases as both US Vice-President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump have recently publicly supported the wearing of masks by people to protect themselves.
Re-imposition of lockdowns
The resurgence of Covid-19 cases has therefore forced a number of countries to re-impose lockdowns and restrictions. Thus, China has imposed a strict lockdown on an area near Beijing and its 400,000 inhabitants following a surge of Covid-19 cases in the locality. In the UK, a lockdown has been re-imposed in the city of Leicester under a new law carrying severe penalties for those who flout the lockdown rules.
In Australia, a new outbreak of hundreds of new cases of Covid-19 in the past two weeks in Melbourne has led the state of Victoria to re-impose strict lockdown measures for six weeks on Melbourne, in order to stem the risk of a second wave of infections spreading across the country. The border between Australia’s two most populous states, Victoria and New South Wales (NSW), has also been closed in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.
Greece has banned all but essential travel from Serbia as infection numbers continue to rise there. In Israel, the government imposed a partial lockdown following a rise in new cases, two months after it thought it had contained the virus.
In our own region, Madagascar has imposed a total 15-day lockdown as from this week following a rise in cases in Analamanga, a region which includes the capital Antananarivo and its surrounding metropolitan area.
We are in this together
Knee-jerk reactions to contain spikes of infection cannot win the battle against Covid-19. The re-imposition of lockdowns means a step backwards in the fight against coronavirus. Every country seems to be adopting their own strategies to combat the virus using similar ingredients but diverse plans of action. It all seems in disarray. More than ever the world needs to share their experience and unite to quash this common enemy. Without active cooperation and coordination among nations and a common resolve we will not be able to overcome this pandemic. We are in this together.
Flattening the curve of infection does not mean that the battle against Covid-19 is won. Covid-19 is an extremely contagious and insidious virus which is very much present in the world in our midst. Any complacency and lack of vigilance or discipline in strictly abiding by social distancing and hygienic norms or in wearing protective masks can cause and is causing spikes of coronavirus infection.
The world cannot bear the heavy human toll of another wave of the virus and the whopping costs and hardships of new lockdowns. Every action necessary must therefore be taken to prevent such a grim scenario.
In the war against Covid-19 all countries face two major challenges. They must first and foremost contain and ideally stem the virus within the country. Secondly, they must ensure that the opening of their borders to tourists and foreign travellers is safe and does not become a conduit of new Covid-19 infections in the country. In the present state of infection in the world, it is evident that the opening of borders to foreign travel and tourists is fraught with high risks.
In Mauritius, it would be reckless to open our borders when the countries which are our main sources of tourists are still seriously affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and are still battling against the virus. There are strong lobbies at work and the government is also reported to be working on a modus operandi to open up the tourism sector despite the obvious risks and pitfalls of such a foolhardy decision when they 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 or Mauritians working on cruise vessels.
Being an island, Mauritius is fairly well protected provided the border controls, testing protocol and quarantine measures are rigorously implemented. These strict measures of border control have enabled us to detect, isolate and treat those infected by Covid-19 to prevent the spread of the virus in the country. However, dealing with a few thousand travellers and those they were in contact with is not the same exercise as screening and managing the health risks posed by tens of thousands of tourists every month. The country cannot afford to risk a resurgence of the virus and the dire throes and enormous costs of a new lockdown.
It is a very difficult decision bearing in mind the prime importance of the tourism sector in the country. Good sense must however prevail. The tourism industry in the country and all its economic actors must reconcile themselves with the crying reality that the country cannot take the risk of opening its borders to tourists in the present state of the Covid-19 pandemic in the world and in countries which are our main sources of tourists.
As a nation, are we prepared to expose the hotel staff and those working in the travel industry and the hospitality business to the risk of being infected by Covid-19 by undetected carriers of the virus? Can we put their lives at risk? Is the nation prepared to deliberately overwhelm the health services of the country through a resurgence of Covid-19 in the country?
The tourism industry must therefore adopt mitigating strategies and they must receive the required support to do that. Renovation and attractive packages to encourage more Mauritians to holiday in our hotels or the organization of diverse activities such as seminars or weddings could be some of the actions to help the industry tide over the current crisis.
The pursuit of profit cannot be an end in itself in the context of the daunting Covid-19 crisis faced by the world and the heavy toll of casualties caused by the pandemic. The wise counsel of Charles Ng, the Director of Atom Travel who is one of the key players of the travel industry in Mauritius to government says it all: ‘Je suis dans le tourisme depuis longtemps. C’est mon gagne-pain. En dépit du soutien de l’Etat, mon entreprise souffre énormément. Cependant, pour ouvrir l’accès, il y a trop de risques. Le gouvernement doit y réfléchir à quatre fois.’
This is the Mauritius we salute. This laudable stance must be echoed by the whole sector if we want to keep Mauritius Covid-19 free.
* Published in print edition on 10 July 2020