Reality Check

Matters of the Moment

The world does not seem to have drawn lessons from the warnings of an impending climate change catastrophe or the dire socio-economic consequences of the Covid-10 pandemic. The insatiable pursuit of Mammon and power seems unabated
New surge of Covid-19 infection in Europe. Photo – GettyImages

By Mrinal Roy

In so many ways, the government, the leaders of opposition parties and the private sector lobbies and their proxies jockeying for their vested interests seem to be cut off from reality. At a time when Mauritius and the world are buckling under the dire sanitary and disastrous socio-economic fallouts of Covid-19, the priority of the leaders of the main opposition political parties of the country is to cobble a nondescript alliance and share the key constitutional posts of the country in a bid to challenge the ruling regime when general elections are more than four years away. Is this a credible option for the future in a context of pervasive ire and exasperation of the people at the whole political class and their mode of governance? Is such an alliance in the interest of the country and the people or in the interest of the politicians concerned?

Such a ragtag alliance is tantamount to offering, yet again, as in the case of the 2019 general elections power to the ruling government. The country cannot continue to be held hostage by the endless clan wars which have plagued the political history of the country and have been so detrimental to the prospects of the country.

Despite two successive debacles at the polls, the ageing leaders of the Labour Party and the MMM doggedly want to lead their parties at a time when the people are clamouring for a new leadership, a new political ethos and a new class of young, competent and altruistic politicians committed to serve the people and propose an innovative pathway to realize our loftiest ambitions as a nation for the benefit of all. Surely, we can no longer, as a nation, allow governance and the performance of the country to remain in the doldrums.

* * *Germany steps up restrictions amid Covid-19 surge. Photo – AP

Rush to normality

Doing business is about risk taking after a careful evaluation of the risks and opportunities of the marketplace. Covid-19 is an unexpected event which has thrown the whole business world and the market place in disarray. It tests the mettle and management acumen of business leaders to chart out alternative strategies to conjure or mitigate the adverse impact of the crisis. In the precipitated rush to normality, too many countries across the world have privileged the economy over the lives of people. Too many countries have opted prematurely to end shutdowns aimed at containing the spread of the virus to safeguard the lives of people in order to reboot the economy.

The upshot is that Covid-19 has infected more than 38.7 million people in 189 countries and has caused a death toll of more than a million people in the world. In addition, a large number of Covid-19 deaths have remained unrecorded. There is also evidence that about 1% of survivors have long term viral damage such as crippling fatigue and scarred lungs. In India, there are fewer deaths because the average age of the population is 28. The young are found to be generally more resistant to the virus than the elderly. Pending the availability of a safe, effective and affordable vaccine, strict hygiene protocols, social distancing and the wearing of masks remain the ultimate protection against the risk of infection.

New surge of infection

There is a new surge of Covid-19 infection in the world. A rise in infection and hospital admissions is noted in Europe, our principal source of tourists. In order to drive the scale of infection down, England has this week unveiled a new three-tier system of Covid-19 restrictions. While most of the country will be in the lowest tier, millions of people in the North and the Midlands face extra curbs on households mixing. Liverpool and possibly Greater Manchester, Lancashire and some other areas will be under the toughest restrictions, with pubs and bars not serving meals being closed.

In France roughly 18,000 new cases are being detected every day. The latest data show that the main vector of infection is young people. Last week, a range of strict restrictions have been imposed in the country. The government announced this week that it will restore the state of health emergency in the country as from Saturday. This will enable government to introduce new and stricter measures in localities and at national level to fight the resurgence of coronavirus infections.

Countries where cases have risen to more than 5000 per day are the US, Brazil, India, UK, Spain, France, Netherlands, Columbia, Argentina and Russia. A spike in infection is expected as winter sets in the northern hemisphere. People remain indoors in a closed space which favours the spread of the virus.

Irresponsible blunders

We need to count our blessings that despite the spread of coronavirus in the world, Mauritius is Covid-19 free as there are no local cases of coronavirus infection in the country. We should all strive to keep it so. People know that opening our frontiers in the present state of the Covid-19 pandemic is fraught with high risks. Under pressure from the tourism sector and their proxies including those among the political class complaining about the lack of visibility in the sector ahead of the high season, the government has decided as an interim step to open the borders of Mauritius under strict sanitary conditions to Mauritian nationals and tourists travelling to Mauritius for long stays. Thus, all incoming passengers must have proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken at most 7 days before their arrival in the country. They will be tested again on arrival and will have to be confined in a strict 14-day quarantine in a medically secured hotel.

Despite all the rigorous health protocols in place to ensure that all incoming passengers are shepherded to their quarantine hotels, there have already been condemnable blunders by actors of the tourism sector in the first week of operation of the system in place. Sanitary protocols were breached when unknown to the authorities, taxis were irresponsibly subcontracted by a tour operator to carry incoming passengers to their quarantine hotels. Each of the 37 taxi drivers involved had to be tracked down, tested and quarantined. This is a serious breach of the strict sanitary measures in place as several passengers on the incoming flights were tested Covid-19 positive on arrival. It is expected that such irresponsible behaviour will be severely sanctioned by the laws in place as it rashly exposes the people of the country to the risk of infection by carriers of the virus.

Furthermore, every week a certain number of passengers are tested positive on arrival despite being tested negative prior to embarkation. A total of some 35 infected passengers have so far been detected and sent for treatment to the Covid-19 hospital. This was to be expected as the incoming passengers are coming from countries where Covid-19 infection is rife.

What if?

Those lobbying for our frontiers to be opened seem to be solely driven by the narrow perspective of their own vested interests totally oblivious of the global plight of the tourism sector in the world. In a report released last month which draws on the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) data to quantify the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic on global tourism, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that ‘up to 120 million tourism jobs are at risk and that depending on when travel restrictions will be fully lifted, the World Tourism Organization expects international tourism receipts to drop between $910 billion and $1.2 trillion this year, which would set the global tourism industry back by 20 years.

Even when travel restrictions are eased, people are reluctant to travel because of the risk of infection owing to the wide spread of Covid-19 across the world. It is certainly not as if the tourism sector is thriving across the world whilst Mauritius is being left out owing to its closed borders. Covid-19 has also adversely impacted the airline industry as a multitude of airlines have filed for bankruptcy or are in voluntary administration.

Despite all the sanitary precautions taken, what if the relaxation of travel restrictions triggers a resurgence of local cases of infection in the country and casualties. Will all those lobbying for our frontiers to be opened in the teeth of elementary common sense and the movers and shakers of the tourism sector assume the responsibility of any adverse consequences? Will they fully bear the consequences of their actions?

* * *

Legitimate interrogations

The government cannot continue to bury its head in the sand or lie low in the face of the clamour from the streets and the many questionable government decisions being decried by the multitude. These inter alia include governance, the lack of transparency, accountability and rigour in the management of public funds, nepotism and the appointment of the coterie at the head of key institutions of the State and widening inequality.

They also include legitimate interrogations on the lack of transparency on the terms on which the substantial bailout funds drawn from some US $ 2 billion (about Rs 80 billion) of the foreign exchange reserves of the Bank of Mauritius by the Mauritius Investment Corporation Ltd (MIC) are allocated to distressed companies and more importantly whether these funds are being used as a vector of fundamental change to recast the ownership of prime assets in the country and democratize the economy for the common good. These key issues cannot be swept under the carpet. They have to be urgently addressed by government to defuse the risk of a backlash.

The world does not seem to have drawn lessons from the warnings of an impending climate change catastrophe or the dire socio-economic consequences of the Covid-10 pandemic. The insatiable pursuit of Mammon and power seems unabated at a time when the world needs to urgently ensure that its actions and model of development are in harmony with the laws of nature, sustainable and respectful of the environment and its biodiversity. There is therefore an urgent need for a sobering reality check by politicians, the government and all those who continue to be solely driven by their narrow vested interests.

* Published in print edition on 16 October 2020

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