What Pandemic Fatigue?

The authorities may feel some justification in the continuance of the emergency conditions that have prevailed since 2020 and extended repeatedly, for many citizens there is need for better justification for such a prolonged state of affairs

By Jan Arden

The term pandemic fatigue, which may have been mentioned here and elsewhere over the past year or so, does not refer to weariness with sanitary protocols and restrictions that were absolutely vital to contain the viral spread and our individual health once the virus hit our shores. Most people, especially those with co-morbidities or the elderly, perhaps more willingly than others, have overcome whatever initial resistance to mandatory discharge forms and early internet-based disinformation that had been around, have queued up for long hours under rain or sun occasionally to get their initial and booster doses of vaccines done. Most people, shops and supermarkets have largely respected the authorities’ instructions for distancing or alphabetical listings, for regular hand disinfection, social distancing and wearing of masks in public places as were required. Government and health statistics bear out those general perceptions that justify decision-making.

Covid-19 Emergency Conditions – ‘If the public now seem exasperated by Covid measures, it may well express a high skepticism and resentment not with health measures but with factors associated with the pandemic environment and its handling’. Pic – Al Jazeera

Nevertheless, the authorities would have also noted the reluctance of many in the non-vulnerable groups probably to get enticed into a third booster dose, which is according to their and perhaps WHO reading, unnecessary even with new variants that have been cropping up. They would have also noted the somewhat absurd situation where tourists coming from source countries where face masks are no longer mandatory in public, have to find and wear face masks here as they trudge around the island. Half of western Europe has indeed dropped such a requirement weeks or months ago and football stadiums have been packed to capacity in UK and elsewhere without any consequential rise in Covid-related cases. Where are the Ministers who only recently were vaunting on international media that we have vanquished the pandemic and Mauritius was open for business and visitors even without specifying that Mauritians would continue to be weighed down by heavy policing hands?

Ordinary citizens are entitled to be troubled by our inconsistencies when according to responsible Ministers we are targeting some 100,000 inbound tourists monthly. They are entitled to be aggrieved when police circulars leaked seem to send officers to rake in more fixed penalty fines for not wearing masks properly with quotas imposed on the junior rungs. They are entitled to be indignant when the authorities disburse public funds, first-class tickets and huge per-diems to a flying posse of Ministers with civil servants in tow, heading to the Dubai jalsa in the midst of difficult times and escalating prices of food, pharmaceuticals and fuel. They are entitled to ask why the emergency pandemic conditions that curtail and severely restrict our freedoms and rights are still operative now that the worst is behind us. So, what would the term “pandemic fatigue”, in so far as it reflects an issue, be really about?

In a recent opinion piece, which appeared in one of Britain’s most respected medical journals, the British Medical Journal of 11th May this year, entitled ‘Is it really time to ditch the mask?’ the authors note that face masks as a useful mitigating measure to prevent the spread of Covid-19 have been ditched in most of Western Europe and analyse the pandemic fatigue which may have set in. The idea that public adherence to risk reduction strategies diminishes over time, they note, has been contradicted by several surveys and studies, but if the public now seem exasperated by Covid measures, it may well express a high skepticism and resentment not with health measures but with factors associated with the pandemic environment and its handling. That exasperation may be due to “a perceived break in the social contract and a lack of perceived coherence, transparency, communication or justification for decision-making”.

Today, when general economic distress, joblessness, rupee depreciation of some 20% over the past two years, and the escalation of taxes, duties and levies including VAT hit the pumps, “pandemic fatigue” refers clearly to matters beyond sanitary protocols. When in our island context, the authorities may feel some justification in the continuance of the emergency conditions that have prevailed since 2020 and extended repeatedly, for many citizens there is need for better justification for such a prolonged state of affairs now. Continued emergency conditions have been associated, rightly or wrongly, with the dismissal of municipal elections, with large public sector contracts being allocated without the full operation and scrutiny of tender procedures and with policing that has become an irritating constraint on our civil rights and freedoms that should operate under normal conditions.

This may be the real “pandemic fatigue” that percolates through sections of society.

* * *

A lady as French PM

French President Emmanuel Macron has appointed a lady as his Prime Minister responsible for coordinating a ministerial team towards generally implementing his policies. It is a first in the French republic (since the unfortunate Edith Cresson had a very short shelf-life) and many will be watching closely the authority, road-map and latitude of former Labour Minister Elizabeth Borne in her new capacity at Matignon.

File photo taken on July 22, 2020 shows French Labour Minister Elisabeth Borne (L) and French President Emmanuel Macron are pictured at Chambord castle. Pic – AFP

The jointly agreed ministerial team will be appointed in the coming days after the usual series of necessary consultations. Sociologists and political analysts will reflect on why the political realities of European Mediterranean democracies generally have not allowed women to rise to the highest offices despite some well-known figures in France who could have been worthy candidates over the years, notably Simone Weil, Segolene Royale or even Christine Lagarde.

It would be trite to list the numerous figures that have held such high posts without undue fuss elsewhere around the world, from Indira Gandhi or Chandrika Bandaranaike in Sri Lanka, Carrie Lam in Hong-Kong, Jacinda Arden in New Zealand, and in the northern European states where Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel come immediately to mind as exceptional public figures.

Are there cultural factors at play? In an aside, are our contexts closer to the Mediterranean mould or the wider world?

* * *

Greater transparency

Listening to the PM in answer to a PQ in Parliament reeling out lengthy and detailed data and statistics about criminality, drug seizures and assets forfeited, all very useful, one cannot but wonder why for the sake of greater transparency, such information is not made periodically available as a matter of normal functioning on one or more appropriate government websites. For that matter why the independent regulatory authorities, even with restrictions where inquiries are ongoing, cannot provide every quarter or semester such information as normal practice? It would be mystifying in the 21st century if raw data and statistics of the type provided by the PM or other Ministers in Parliament could not be uploaded and updated regularly with the IT specialists at the disposal of authorities. Are there national security reasons that prevent greater transparency when all sectors of the population are doing their best to survive or thrive. One can imagine the number of PQs that would be unrequited as a means of obtaining simple data and statistics pertaining to government action in most spheres.

On the same theme of greater transparency, it is understood that government through the state utility company CEB, may be reviewing shortly the terms, conditions and duration of contracts from IPP suppliers who have by now largely and handsomely amortized their investment costs to generate electricity since twenty years ago. We would not understand that contracts that were made public some years back by a previous government should be considered as confidential or too commercially sensitive for public disclosure. We trust this will not be the case and that public interest will prevail.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 20 May 2022

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