Should the authorities bite the bullet?

Editorial

At the time of writing, sadly, 475 people have passed away this year from Covid-19; only 10 deaths were registered last year since the onset of the pandemic. The higher death toll has been attributed to different variants of the coronavirus, initially coming under different scientific names, the latest being the Delta variant – one that is highly contagious, in fact much more contagious than previous variants, and which would explain the spike in the number of cases during the last two weeks or so.

The latest news reports point to existence of another variant – the C.1.2, first detected in South Africa some six months back – in Mauritius, and which has spread to other countries like China, Congo, New Zealand, and in Europe as well. Yet another disturbing news item that has come out only yesterday relates to another Covid-19 variant with multiple mutations, which scientists in South Africa have detected and which would be responsible for a surge in infection numbers. According to a statement by virologist Tulio de Oliveira at a “hastily-called news conference”, the variant, which goes by the scientific lineage number B.1.1.529, has a very high number of mutations, and is causing a resurgence of infections. Health Minister Joe Phaahla said the variant was of “serious concern” and behind an “exponential” increase in reported cases, making it “a major threat”. This new variant has also been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong among travellers from South Africa, he said. With our frontiers now reopened, and with more tourists coming in and Mauritians flying back to the country, the risks of transmission and propagation of the latest and other variants in the country are potentially high.

With new variants emerging, the efficacy of existing vaccines may raise questions while it’s becoming much more unlikely that Covid-19 will be eradicated any time soon. The World Health Organization said on Wednesday that Covid vaccines reduce transmission of the dominant Delta variant by only about 40%, and warned people against falling into “a false sense of security”. That is why the WHO chief Tedros Ghebreyesus urged vaccinated people to continue to take measures to avoid catching Covid-19 and passing on the disease.

The leader of the Labour Party, himself a victim of the Covid-19 infection earlier, has added his voice to calls from other Opposition leaders (namely Xavier Duval of the PMSD) and from civil society about the need for another lockdown, albeit a shorter one (a ‘semi-lockdown’) than the earlier two previous ones in light of the resurgence of the pandemic and the increasing number of victims in the country. Besides political considerations, it is to be expected that the government is unlikely to give serious consideration to those calls from civil society or the Opposition’s if only not to credit the widespread criticisms for its lack of preparedness leading to the resurgence of Covid cases and the record number of deaths during the past weeks.

To be fair, however, one can well understand that governments have to weigh the pros and cons of applying such strict measures in crisis situations – in this case lockdowns which economists – and businessmen, obviously – say hurt a country’s economy, thereby compounding the human and economic damage already wreaked by the pandemic. If there is on the one hand the private sector’s apprehensions over economic recovery and the survival of important companies and sectors, which may be endangered by lockdowns, there is also the view expressed by scientists, medical professionals and epidemiologists that ‘the medium- to long-term consequences of allowing infections to continue will have enduring consequences for both the economy and society’. What seems to be obvious is that no single perspective from whichever quarter will lead us out of the current situation, and there’s certainly a tricky balancing act for government to perform.

Previous lockdowns had the desired effect of breaking the transmission cycle but the inability to control the irruption of the new variants and their spread since march this year have compounded matters. The population has been drip-fed a boisterously breezy line of a covid-safe destination where all was under control, when the situation was visibly deteriorating, fuelling both population fatigue, loss of credibility of official communications and health personnel demoralisation. Is it high time to bite the bullet now at some economic costs or face further traumas of unknown proportions and durations?


* Published in print edition on 26 November 2021

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