Novel coronavirus: No reason to press the panic button

… if the surveillance and screening as well as the preventative advisories to the population are followed by all concerned

By TP Saran

At the session of the national Assembly held on February 03, the issue of Novel Coronavirus in Mauritius was raised by the Leader of the Opposition, Dr A. Boolell, in a Private Notice Question seeking answers from the Minister of Health and Wellness on three points:

(a) the safety and security measures and surveillance system put in place in the Republic of Mauritius as precautionary measures against any risks;

(b) the number of times the multi-sectoral team has met and when the Rapid Response team has started implementing its services, and

(c) the number of persons suspected of presenting the symptoms thereof who can be accommodated at the New Souillac Hospital.

There followed a lengthy exchange, and the substantive clarifications provided by Minister Dr Jugutpal reassured the House ‘that our response strategy has been developed in line with the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO) following thorough consultations with all the relevant authorities and stakeholders concerned’.

These recommendations are as outlined by the International Health Regulations Emergency Health Committee. The Minister also stated that ‘we have also put in place a communication strategy to continuously inform the population through the media of the prompt preventative actions taken by my Ministry’.

He enumerated some of the main measures already in force –

Surveillance at SSR International Airport

  • All passengers arriving from China are systematically being screened.
  • Body temperature of passengers is taken individually in the corridor as they disembark from the plane.
  • Body temperature is again taken by the Thermal Detector at the Public Health Desk.
  • A dedicated desk has been set up at the Public Health Counter for all passengers arriving from China.
  • Public Health Inspectors enquire about the health status of each and every passenger arriving from China.
  • Health Declaration Forms are being verified by the sanitary authorities at the Airport.
  • The Airport Medical Post is on alert on a 24h basis.
  • A dedicated and fully equipped ambulance service is on stand-by at the airport on a 24h basis to cater for any emergency.
  • All health care providers at the Airport are fully equipped with personal protective equipment. Furthermore, protective equipment is also available in case there is any need to transfer suspected cases to Souillac Hospital.
  • Exit screening of body temperature is being carried out invariably for all passengers travelling back to China.

Surveillance at the seaport

  • Passengers travelling by cruise ships and private yachts are automatically subjected to body temperature check both on departure and arrival. The same measures are also applicable for staff members of cruise ships.
  • Surveillance is being carried out for all crew members of cargo ships, including fishing vessels.

In addition, all passengers travelling from China are invariably and systematically put on surveillance (quarantine or isolation) for a period of 14 days, and are closely monitored.

As regards part (c) of the question, the House was informed that ‘the facilities for Isolation and Quarantine at Souillac Hospital were put in place in 2010 and were then designed to accommodate some 16 persons. These facilities have now been upgraded to accommodate up to 36 persons. Provision is also being made for an additional of 20 beds’.

The Leader of the Opposition went on to ask several subsidiary questions which were ably answered by the Minister, but the bottomline as the latter pointed out is that to date ‘We have not yet had one single case of the Coronavirus’. Which means that the measures implemented so far are effective.

It may also be noted that, as the Minister pointed out as well, the country has a rich experience of handling previous epidemic-risk situations such as those related to AH1N1 virus, the MERS virus, Ebola. The one thing to avoid when faced with the risk of a new virus infection that is spreading is creating panic and paranoia in the population. Unfortunately this did happen during the AH1N1 epidemic, but fortunately the current novel coronavirus situation has been ably handled so far. If the surveillance and screening as well as the preventative advisories to the population are followed by all concerned, there is no reason to press the panic button.

It may also be noted that a number of Mauritian students studying in areas outside wuhan and the Hubei region, such as in Beijing and Shanghai, have preferred to stay back rather than travel, and have reassured their parents that they are safe and being well looked after by their university authorities. This is good news which should comfort their close ones, fellow countrymen and the Mauritian authorities.

* * *

Satisfaction with the Metro Express

A number of people, including some Mauritians staying abroad, have been impressed by their trip in the Metro Express. They appreciated the cleanliness of the trams, the rapidity with which they reached Port Louis from Rose Hill (18 minutes), and the smooth ride compared to travelling by noisy and rattling buses! They even looked forward to traveling all the way from Port Louis to Curepipe in due course – and hope that that would not be too long coming. According to the the website of the metro authorities, the metro will be reaching Quatre Bornes in the not too distant future, so let’s keep fingers crossed. Senior citizens that we have met have really enjoyed travelling by the metro, more so those who have never had any experience of this mode of transport before.

The recent incident that took place at the Vandermeersch segment, in which a lady driver hit the tram when she took a prohibited turn, raises questions of how this kind of incident can be prevented in the future. In the city of Mumbai, drivers of vehicles stopped their continuous honking when the red light was on – as they had been doing all the time – by a simple measure introduced by the police. A meter that registers decibel levels was fixed on the signal light pole and linked to the red light electronically. When the decibel level reaches above 80, the red light remains on, which causes even more irritation. Until the drivers realized that if they stopped honking the decibel level dropped and the green light comes on.

In the case of the local metro, one possibility is to have the train beep as it approaches an intersection, either automatically or by a manual operation. But given the level of sophistication of the trams installing such a beeper should not be a big deal, and we feel it should be considered, and the public informed accordingly. If the metro authorities have an alternative or better idea, by all means that should be implemented. But something must be done, that’s for sure. Let us hope – or pray – that something is worked out and implemented as soon as possible, before another mishap takes place.

* Published in print edition on 14 February 2020

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