There is general consensus that the economic fallout from Covid-19 will be dramatic for all countries across the world. Even in the best case scenario, it is estimated that the cost to national economies will be higher than that following the 2008 economic crisis, and losses are likely to exceed over 10% of global GDP. That will add to the lockdown-associated psychological stress and fatigue people everywhere are struggling with. What this means is that the severity of the impacts of the pandemic on national economies and mental health will be dependent on how long it lasts, the response marshalled by governments and how soon a vaccine is developed against the virus.
We may not be out of the woods any time soon according to the latest indications of the pandemic situation in different regions. In fact reports from news agencies indicate that ‘coronavirus cases are spiking from India to South Africa and Mexico in a clear indication the pandemic is far from over’.
The surges come as much of Asia, Europe and scores of US states have been easing lockdowns to restart their economies, basing themselves on the flattening of the curve in their respective countries, though this cannot be and is not uniformly to the same degree in different countries. But the need to get the economies running anew, which basically means that people must work ‘to put food on the table’, the lassitude of the lockdown and the overwhelming urge to socialize have perforce been factored into the national decisions to open up. US autoworkers, French teachers and Thai mall workers are among hundreds of thousands of employees back at work with new safety precautions, reports Associated Press.
Russia reported a steady rise in new infections on Tuesday, and new hot spots have emerged across the nation of about 147 million. It has registered nearly 9300 new cases in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to almost 300,000 infections, about half of them in Moscow. Russia’s caseload is second only to that of the US, which has seen 1.5 million infections and over 90,000 deaths.
The number of cases is now rising across Africa, where all 54 nations have seen confirmed infections for a total of over 88,000 cases and 2800 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it is expected that this trend will continue. South Africa has the highest number of cases at over 16,400 and nearly 290 deaths. Infections have increased dramatically in Cape Town and the surrounding Western Cape province, which now accounts for 61% of South Africa’s total.
Latin America has seen more than 480,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and about 31,000 dead. The highest number of cases is in Brazil, which became the world’s third worst-hit country Monday with more than 250,000 infections despite limited testing. Hospital officials reported that more than 85% of intensive care beds are occupied in the states of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.
In India, coronavirus cases surged past 100,000, and infections are rising in the home states of migrant workers who fled cities and towns during a nationwide lockdown when they lost their jobs. India is now seeing more than 4000 new cases daily. States including West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha and Gujarat, the major contributors of India’s migrant labour, are showing major spikes in infections as the country’s lockdown rules have eased. More than 3100 with Covid-19 have died, according to India’s Health Ministry.
Yesterday WHO reported the highest number of cases worldwide till then – 106000, 45000 of which were in the US alone. Epidemiologists have warned that there may be successive waves that will follow intermittent periods of lockdown.
What does all this mean for Mauritius, which will see the lifting of the almost 70-day lockdown on 1st June? Although the indications are that we are unlikely to have a ‘second wave’ phenomenon, we must remember that all such projections are made on the basis of available data and are probabilistic. The global scientific consensus is that in the absence of proven specific treatment and a vaccine, the best strategy to control any spread or surge is to apply rigorously the social distancing and other sanitary measures that have been recommended – and one must say generally been followed in Mauritius.
As we open up, this is the message that must be repeated 24/7 using all the means of communication available – radio, television, loudspeakers, billboards, flyers: all over, at workplaces and so on. The leaders must give the example, and the police must be trained to be more persuasive and less coercive not to say aggressive. And of course the frontliners in the health facilities must be given all that is required in terms of equipment, medications, protective gear.
If an enlightened leadership can mobilize and inspire all citizens through personal examples of sacrifice and patriotism that are worthy of emulation, we can look forward to opening up with a confidence to overcome.
* Published in print edition on 22 May 2020