The Battle against the Covid-19 Pandemic: United we stand, divided we fall
By Mrinal Roy
The signs are worrying. The daily information regarding the unabated number of new cases of Covid-19 infection stemming from existing and new hotbeds of coronavirus infection is an indictment of an infuriatingly lax and culpable behaviour by some during the lockdown imposed to contain the new outbreak of Covid-19 infection in the country. It is patently evident that many of those infected are guilty of wantonly flouting the strict lockdown directives in force as well as rules governing sanitary and social distancing norms and the proper wearing of masks. Far from assuming their civic duty of strictly abiding by the prescribed sanitary rules to help the country break the chain of infection and contain the spread of the virus, they have fuelled it through their reckless and irresponsible actions.
The upshot has been a disquieting surge of Covid-19 infection with clusters of infection spawning in diverse locations in the country. Massive contact tracing exercises organized in various regions on the basis of information obtained from infected persons have helped track down infected persons and corral them for treatment in dedicated Covid-19 hospitals.
This process has also mobilised the country’s medical laboratories to carry out more than 60,000 PCR tests and a host of quarantine centres to isolate those in contact with the infected persons. The mobilization of all these services through the culpable indiscipline of some, to track down and contain the spread of the virus in the country has added unnecessary pressure on these key services which are on the forefront of our battle against the pandemic and further hiked the whopping costs of managing the Covid-19 crisis.
This harrowing situation begs so many germane questions. How could so many persons blithely flout the strict rules of the national lockdown and expose themselves and others to the risk of infection? How could there be so many lapses in the rigorous oversight of the sanitary protocols in place to contain the virus and break its chain of transmission in the community? The country learnt with dismay this week that only 5000 of the 13000 medical staff manning the various health services in the country have so far opted to be vaccinated. It is also distressing to learn that patients and medical staff working in a dialysis centre were infected by coronavirus adding to their medical woes.
If the world is to win the battle against the pandemic we need to use every tool available to stop it. First and foremost, every country must urgently vaccinate its population to protect them against the risk of Covid-19 infection. Urgent steps must therefore be taken to boost the production and availability of Covid vaccines to all countries across the world. The aim of the global vaccination drive should be to reach the required herd immunity against coronavirus as early as possible.
We know that Covid-19 is very infectious and can cause serious life-threatening complications. If we are infected we could spread, as evidenced locally, the disease to friends, family, and others around us. Every precaution must therefore be taken to ensure that we not only protect ourselves but also others from getting infected by the virus. The golden rule must be that every precaution must be taken not to be infected by the virus.
There is growing evidence that vaccines protect people against severe forms of coronavirus infection and death. Vaccines also protect our family members, people around us and in particular those that are vulnerable to high risks of severe illness from Covid-19.
As more and more people are vaccinated in countries across the world, the quicker we can hope of reaching the herd immunity required to protect the world population against the risk of infection.
In parallel, every country must rigorously impose strict sanitary measures, the wearing of masks and social distancing to help reduce the risk of people being infected by the virus and spreading it to others. In Mauritius, government has formalized these rules and regulations into law to deter and sanction any wanton behaviour. It is however imperative that people strictly abide by these rules for the protection of one and all.
It is the combination of a robust vaccination drive to attain herd immunity and the application of strict sanitary measures which will offer the best protection against the risk of a coronavirus infection and help the world win the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic. These are necessary conditions to progress towards a modicum of normality to reboot the economy and kick-start the urgent process of economic recovery, bilateral trade flows and the movement of people under established rules.
The way forward
The current imbalance between competing demands for Covid-19 vaccines from countries across the world and limited and controlled supplies of vaccines from manufacturing countries has denied a multitude of countries access to vaccines or adequate and timely supplies of vaccines to meet their requirements. Vaccine diplomacy is not enough. This is a most unsatisfactory situation because a return to a modicum of normality also depends on whether herd immunity through vaccination against coronavirus has also been attained not only in countries which are our main trading partners and principal sources of tourists or not but also in countries across the world
There is also no clear visibility on the vaccine supplies from the COVAXIN facility in 2021 and 2022. The drugmaker Johnson & Johnson which has just concluded a deal to supply the African Union with up to 400 million doses of its single jab Covid-19 vaccine will only start to supply them as from the third quarter of 2021.
More than ever before, there is an urgent need for international solidarity to win the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic. This is the world’s most difficult battle. We are in this battle together. We can only win it by fighting it together. There is therefore an imperative need to set up an international group comprising key world leaders, the main producers of Covid-19 vaccines and representatives of the major continents to take stock of country demand and supplies, take measures to boost production, formalize the approval of vaccines already in use and fairly arbitrate the allocation of vaccine quantities to countries across the world. This platform should also be looking at financing options for the most vulnerable countries. This is a tall order but this is the only rational and sustainable way forward.
In this context, kudos must be given to the owners of the Serum institute of India who unlike other vaccine producers took a calculated risk on the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine and started its production at their own cost ahead of final approval in order to provide advance supplies of this vaccine to the world.
Skewed supply of vaccines
The current supply of vaccines is skewed towards the needs of the vaccines manufacturing countries and the richest nations. There is therefore a real risk that the rate of coronavirus infection peak in countries denied or receiving only a small proportion of their vaccine requirements. This would result in a higher death toll and trigger a flow of refugees towards richer countries to flee the pandemic. The virus has already killed some 121,000 people across Africa and infected 4.18 million.
Experience has shown that member driven UN bodies do not have the authority and mandate to fairly arbitrate available supplies of vaccines and assure an equitable distribution of vaccines to countries across the world. For example, the WHO is currently mired in the controversies relating to the thrust and contested findings of the belated investigation into the plausible origins of Covid-19.
United not divided
A world divided between countries having obtained the required volume of vaccines to attain herd immunity and a plethora of highly infected countries struggling to have access to Covid-19 vaccines amid a rising death toll, let alone having the required financial resources to buy their vaccine requirements, is not a tenable or sustainable option for the future. The leaders of US, EU, the BRICS countries and Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing countries must come together to produce and supply the vaccine requirements of all countries in a fair, timely and equitable manner.
The world needs to be united in this important endeavour if we are to win this difficult battle. There is no other way. Not to urgently do so is tantamount to shooting ourselves in the foot and inordinately delay any prospect of a return to some form of normality.
* Published in print edition on 2 April 2021