No, the end is not for any time soon

Opinion

“The system put in place for keeping the nation informed of the current situation, namely the daily press briefings of Communications Committee of the Prime Minister’s Office, has done excellent work. Some can point to issues like the omission of facilities like cooked food home delivery systems, with the appropriate safeguards, right from the beginning. But compared to the main issue, the protection of the health of the nation in a critical life-and-death situation, these are minor issues…”


By Paramanund Soobarah

The title of this article comes from Manou Bheenick’s interview in the last issue of Mauritius Times. He was commenting on the possible end to the current sanitary and economic crises stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic. What he said is the most potent truth about the current pandemic. To that I will add: Life will not be the same again – no, not for a long time.

I don’t know much about life in Mauritius, because for many years now I live practically in seclusion all the time. But I can recall the Underground in London during the rush hours, where people were packed tighter than sardines in a can: that will have to stop. I don’t know how it goes with our Metro Express, but I doubt that it can be as bad as the London Underground. I also recall nightclubs in Montreal which were so packed that dancing couples necessarily had rub their bottoms against those of other couples.

We have all seen pictures of very large congregations similarly packed in several parts of the world, and of large crowds at political meetings vociferously approving what is being harangued. In our own country, I hear of private tuition “classes” where children are similarly tightly packed in garages. I hope the ministries concerned will clamp down on them. I also think the concepts of work from home and online schooling will stay in some measure. Schools will slowly become places of sports and games and theatricals; actual teaching and learning will be done online.

Some developments will be welcome, but others not so. There is no limit to human ingenuity in finding solutions to what is not welcome – but the point is, life is not likely to be same again for a long time.

In Mauritius we are all very fortunate that our government has stepped in at the right time and take the appropriate steps to stop, or at least restrain, the spread of the virus. The credit for the lockdown must first and foremost go to the person constitutionally empowered to take such a momentous decision, namely Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth. Of course he was guided in this matter by the Minister of Health and his immediate technical advisers, namely the Director-General of Public Health Services and the several Directors who head the various branches. We all remember one of them, namely Dr Vasantrao Gujadhur, whose warnings and exhortations in the early days of the lockdown went a long way to apprise all of us of the seriousness of this menace.

The system put in place for keeping the nation informed of the current situation, namely the daily press briefings of Communications Committee of the Prime Minister’s Office, has also done excellent work. Some can point to issues like the omission of facilities like cooked food home delivery systems, with the appropriate safeguards, right from the beginning. But compared to the main issue, the protection of the health of the nation in a critical life-and-death situation, these are minor issues. Hats off to the Prime Minister, his Minister of Health, the Cabinet and all officials involved in taking and implementing the decision. Judgements on past government actions like the Nine Year Schooling and the awful level crossings of the Metro Express must be set against the vitally more important decision of saving us from the Covid-19 pandemic, unlike what has happened in the UK and US.

Amidst all this, I came across an article from Dr N Gopee in a recent edition of Mauritius Times that dealt with the management of the Covid-19 threat by the authorities. I am a frequent reader of Dr Gopee’s articles in MT because I find them interesting, instructive and well written, but his ‘Open Letter to the Minister of Health’ seemed to me somewhat too critical of the Government and of the Health minister.

Basically, Dr Gopee is pointing to the callousness or carelessness, or perhaps even of some simple oversight, of some administrative personnel in the Health Services. This has always been the case in these services – it is not something new. While it is not the rule, the exceptions are not infrequent. I can personally recall a case way back in the sixties involving my wife who had just undergone a surgical intervention and was recovering from anaesthesia. More recently, on one occasion the results of my annual blood test were not presented to the doctor examining me during my six-monthly medical examination at the Cardiac Centre, so that I went for two years on the same medication. The following year the same thing happened: I kicked up a row and the results were finally produced for the doctor to see. However, I think that the medical and nursing staff in our country largely meet all the standards of care and sympathy required of them. The same cannot be said of other Health ministry employees like manual workers. I doubt if any Minister can change their behaviour in a few months.

I am not referring just to manual workers in hospitals. The admin people who sit in Ministries are no different. Look at the way they plan the accommodation and processing of outpatients in our hospitals. They do not have the least notion of statistics and rates of growth. The facilities they provide at any point in time are barely enough to cope with the overcrowding that had already taken place two years earlier. If we are to avoid Covid-19 infections in future, they had better smarten up. I am a regular patient at the Candos Cardiac Unit. I begin to worry about my safety once this lockdown is over – for the virus will be around for years until is finally killed off like polio. Let us hope that a vaccine will be available to protect us against it before that comes about, if ever.

About the Minister’s reply to Dr Arvin Boolell, I can find nothing wrong with it. It was based on information available and practices being followed around the world at the time. Nor do I have anything about Dr Boolell – actually I look forward to his promotion as the Leader of the Labour Party.


* Published in print edition on 21 April 2020

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