The major challenge to countries in the management of the Covid pandemic and its surges and waves has been to ‘get the trade-offs right between lockdowns, economic damage and the spread of the virus’, as pointed out in an issue of The Economist of February 6, 2021. In our local context, this same idea was expressed by economist Eric Ng Ping Cheun in an interview to this paper last week as follows:
‘Gérer un pays, c’est savoir gérer les risques, en l’occurrence les risques sanitaires et économiques, en même temps. Tout l’art de gouverner, c’est de savoir créer les conditions d’une bonne santé économique tout en faisant respecter en public, dans la discipline, les consignes sanitaires (port du masque, distanciation sociale).
Nous devons apprendre à vivre avec le coronavirus, sachant que le risque zéro n’existe pas. Faute de quoi, l’économie mauricienne, qui n’est déjà plus résiliente, avancera à reculons.’
In fact, as we have had occasion to point out earlier, experts now coming round to the view that the Covid-19 is going to become a seasonal one like the flu virus and that we will have to live with and adapt to it as we have done for influenza – except that it is a more complicated matter given the variants that have been emerging.
In a report just released by AXYS, it notes that ‘The Mauritian economy has proven to be relatively resilient running at an estimated -85% of pre-pandemic of levels (an ”-85% economy”) given that the hospitality is effectively shut and consumption has slowed.’
While underlining that ‘there remain many palpable downside risks for the economy going forwards’ the report points out that ‘the silver lining is that Mauritius has started its vaccination campaign.’
It continues with ‘we’ve been better prepared for a confinement this time round. Work Access Permits (WAPs) were delivered within days; those able to work-from-home were likely up and running with less friction; supermarkets, banks and the stock-exchange were only shut for a day; while the hospitality industry’s been effectively shut down for a year. Manufacturers are unlikely to see their exports orders cancelled and logistical disruptions will be smaller thanks to an operational harbour and Air Mauritius maintaining weekly flights to selected destinations.
The worst affected will be retail shops, restaurants, ‘snacks’ and cosmetic services. Some might not survive the 2nd one,’ concluding that ‘on a brighter note, once our borders re-open and when vaccinations reach critical mass, that will surely boost our 85% economy.’
First things first – we must reach critical mass in vaccination before we open our borders which will help the economy to recover.
Based on the demographic profile of Mauritius with a population of 1,379,265 (July 2020 estimate) and an age structure classified as 0-14 years and 15-24 years rather than 0-18 years, one can make a rough estimate that the population of Mauritius above 18 years of age could be one million. Since at least 60% of the population must be vaccinated for the country to be relatively Covid-safe and therefore consider opening of borders, this means that at least 600,000 people need to be vaccinated.
100,000 doses of the Covishield vaccine have already been used, the remaining 100,000 having been kept for the second dose to those of the first batch. So that means achieving vaccination in another 500,000 people at the minimum. At the rate of 9000 per day this works out to 55 days – or 100 days if we want to be safer still by vaccinating all the remaining 900,000.
In other words, in 3 months we can seriously think of opening borders – provided we can scale up our vaccination campaign, and in light of the Covid situation in the outside world, especially in our export and tourist markets. This implies having the necessary resources, starting with having sufficient doses of vaccine.
The Covaxin rollout has already begun. Bharat Biotech, the vaccine’s manufacturer has released results from its phase 3 clinical trials, the reported data on the vaccine from phase 1, 2, and 3 trials involving around 27,000 participants. And the data have shown that it has an efficacy rate of 81%. In India nearly one million people have already received the vaccine, and the vaccine rollout in India is closely monitored by its 34-year-old surveillance programme for monitoring ‘adverse events’ following immunization.
So our priority now should be to vaccinate as many people as possible as soon as possible by working out a new strategy, which should include instilling trust in the population so as to get back to normal with their cooperation. That’s the only viable way forward.
* Published in print edition on 23 March 2021
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