Many challenges facing us


The second lockdown does not seem to be as effective as the first one that was imposed last year. The one major incident last year was caused by the superspreader who came from the UK, camouflaging his symptoms and moving around after attending the funeral of his relative which was his main reason for travel. However, after 10 deaths had taken place – including that of that person who became Patient Zero – by the end of the lockdown that was subsequently put in place, the country had recorded only two more deaths, bringing the total to 12 – and that was maintained until the toll started to rise at the beginning of March this year. Predominantly the deaths have been those of patients under dialysis, who are younger and therefore even more tragic for their families.

Besides deaths, however the number of cases continues to rise steadily. While the attitude of the public and their responsibility in the matter of applying the sanitary measures may definitely be a contributory factor, the authorities must also do their mea culpa and assume their larger responsibility for the surge of cases in red zone after red zone. That a school-going child should have been infected because an invigilator coming from a red zone was forced to go to work is surely a damning testimony of what went wrong because of a misguided official decision.

Given the experience of the previous lockdown and that of lockdowns elsewhere, Mauritians were in principle not against the current lockdown being imposed. What they found hard to accept, however, was the manner in which this happened – exactly the same as last time, that is, announced at night to start from the very next day. Not enough time was given for the people to prepare themselves so that they would not be under compulsion to move about. That this method of proceeding has not had the desired effect is only too clear now.

Across the board, in all aspects – whether it is about the tests to be undertaken, the deployment of staff in the Civil Service, work-from-home arrangements, the distribution and assignment of medical and health personnel in the hospitals, the arrangements for quarantine and/or self-isolation, the issuance of WAPs, etc. – as events unfolded they kept confirming that there was more of crisis management than forward planning that should have been done prior to the announcement of the lockdown.

In the education sector this has been nothing short of catastrophic, and the future of thousands of children forced to take examinations under great stress to themselves and to their parents has been put in jeopardy: because their results will definitely not reflect their true potential.

The call to rally everybody to face the challenges posed by the second ‘wave’ was not followed by involving the representative stakeholders and competencies in the different sectors concerned, with too much reliance on a group of individuals to take decisions that had national impacts.

The other major conundrum is vaccination: it needs to be rapidly scaled up to reach at least 60-70% of the population, which means that another one million doses at the minimum must now be sourced. Over and above those received from India (400,000), and China (100,000), as well as WHO 26,000 – a shortfall from the expected initial 100,000 from the Covax platform, the problem is that countries are themselves facing a shortage for their own needs. There is no clear indication of where the required amounts are going to come from. But importantly, there is no clear-cut and communication strategy with the proper professionals on board to counter vaccine hesitancy or uneasiness, especially among those who are being influenced by all the confusing and misleading mass of social media disinformation.

There is no alternative to handling the complex challenges that we are facing than to bring together the best brains in their respective domains in the country, and the stakeholders who know the ground realities and constraints, such as union leaders, to lift the country out of the hugely difficult future that is looming. It is still not too late to do a thorough review of the strategies adopted so far and effect radical changes of direction where these are mandated.

The ball is in the court of the authorities, otherwise the price that the country will have to pay – in terms of more infections, more deaths, more impoverishment and distress – is going to be unbearable.

* Published in print edition on 13 April 2021

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