Stay at home and bring down the economy, or go back to work/schools and take risks: an unprecedented dilemma which leaves little choice
By Nita Chicooree-Mercier
Mauritians of all age groups are aware that they are experiencing an unprecedented disruption in fields: educational, economic, industrial, political and social, caused by a new virus. It is the first time in the history of humanity that a pandemic spreads from Asia to Central, Eastern and Western Europe, to North and South America, the West Indies, Africa, from Indian Ocean islands to Australia. The 1347 devastating pandemic along the Silk Road travelled from Asia and entered Europe through Italy. Ironically, the virus from south Asia passed first through Italy again. Spanish expeditions in Mexico in the 16th century brought a virus which decimated the Aztec and Maya populations. The proliferation of more recent viruses was quite limited geographically.
Deconfinement – End of penalty for Spanish children. Photo – i0.wp.com
What makes the situation unique is that the world is interconnected as never before. We are no longer the sapiens living in the Stone Age, hunter-gatherer tribes, or the Agricultural Revolution of 12,000 years ago, and later periods when human groups were still self-sufficient to feed themselves from their labour and did not have to turn to the ruler of the country to tell them what work to do and how to find food to feed themselves. It is a unique situation with a global virus halting the global economy, breaking all chains of work, manufacturing, supplies and orders at international level, and disrupting everything at national level.
Given all the uncertainties over the possible development of the virus, the age group that it may seriously or lightly affect, phased deconfinement with schools re-opening for specified classes, and employees going back to work in some sectors, it is a very heavy responsibility for the government and stakeholders in the private sector. It is obvious that no government in Mauritius has faced such a situation. Hence, the executive cannot take decisions lightly without learning from the experience of countries about the way to proceed with due consideration to what is applicable in the local context. This is precisely what the executive is doing, like for instance with the Minister of Education inviting all partners in the educational sector to suggest the best solutions. Re-opening schools, offices, factories, big and small businesses is no easy decision for any government. All countries are adopting the same approach – that of applying the most effective strategies employed by other governments. Up to now, Mauritius has been quite efficient in containing the pandemic which could have taken more lives if appropriate measures had not been implemented.
Civil society, governments, business and industrial sectors are aware of the risk of sparking a second wave of Covid-19 despite all the precautionary measures put in place during lockdowns. Stay at home and bring down the economy, or go back to work/schools and take risks: an unprecedented dilemma which leaves little choice.
It is worth considering what preventive steps can be adopted to increase resistance and reduce damage apart from technical measures involving masks, gloves and social distancing. Do not look west for any preventive medicine. It is not the job of formal modern medicine in which what you eat and drink is not considered as a means to limit infectious diseases. Trust local traditions to purify the blood from toxins which circulate to the liver and lungs, and make them less vulnerable to infections. Plants and herbs are known to many. Ayurvedic medicine is widely used by loads of people in both prevention and treatment of diseases. What is not officially acknowledged by the international body of medicine is considered informal, and the national committee monitoring the disease cannot, presumably, take an official stance on the topic.
But folks can go along with their knowledge of spices, herbs and decoctions. Despite the age of Artificial Intelligence, we are still connected to the first Agricultural Revolution 12,000 years ago and the legacy it left to people across the world. It might be interesting to get information about the medicinal quality of the plant that is being used to make drinks in Madagascar.
Hasty announcements of a vaccine shortly in British and German labs, with the US joining in the race is to be taken with circumspection. They are all driven by the logic of huge profits and market share of their respective pharmaceutical lobbies. Remember how the French lobby refused to allow India to manufacture at a lower cost the pills to combat AIDS and prolong the lives of millions of HIV people in Africa in the 1990s. US contribution to WHO is the highest in the world, but it is not all for a philanthropic cause. In return, it aims to promote US hegemony in medical innovation and market share. WHO has been underfunded for decades, and the bickering with the US is not the first time this is happening. An effective vaccine normally takes at least one year to come up with. Since its existence in 1948 WHO has contributed to lots of progress in improving the health of people worldwide. But in an age of high commercial globalisation and interconnected world, there is no global plan right now to tackle the disease, according to historian Yuval Noah Harari in an interview to BBC. Though it is the biggest event that affects the modern world today, he adds, in 100 years people will look back on it as a faraway insignificant event.
In the meantime every country will have to consider the biological reality of contamination, and yet, cross fingers and bring in a dose of optimism and hope in the future development of the situation as economic activities resume.
* Published in print edition on 1 May 2020