From Covid-19 angst to hope

The lives and safety of people are more important than buttressing the finances of the hotel industry in the present state of the Covid-19 pandemic in the world

By Mrinal Roy

Sound judgement and rigour are determinant factors in the management of the Covid-19 pandemic. Any error of judgement can be costly. After initially easing lockdown restrictions, a wide range of countries across the world have been forced to re-impose lockdowns in states, cities and regions following recent spikes in the number of Covid-19 infection in their countries. The new lockdowns span the various continents and include countries such as Argentina, Columbia, Chile, Brazil, the United States, Portugal, Spain, the West Bank and Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, South Africa, Madagascar, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and India as well as cities like Leicester in the UK, Melbourne in Australia, Manila in the Philippines or Beijing and Hong-Kong in China. Melbourne is now the first city of Australia where the wearing of masks is compulsory.

No country can be lax about the essential hygienic and precautionary measures required to contain and stem the spread of the virus. Photo –

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported almost 250,000 new Covid-19 cases in 24 hours during the week-end, the world’s largest daily increase since the pandemic began. The upshot is that Covid-19 is very much present and infecting more and more people in the world. Any lack of vigilance or rigour in abiding by social distancing and hygiene norms or the wearing of masks as witnessed in places of large gatherings of people such as beaches and pubs can spread infection as evidenced in the spikes in new cases of Covid-19 in countries across the world. In such a grim world context, no country can be lax about the essential hygienic and precautionary measures required to contain and stem the spread of the virus. It also means that the world is still a far cry from a return to any semblance of normality.

Questions and object lessons

The discovery that a patient whose Covid-19 test was negative, prior to boarding a private jet from Madagascar to come to Mauritius for treatment in a private clinic, was tested and found on arrival to be Covid-19 positive begs so many burning questions. How many persons travelling by private jets have been allowed into the country despite the fact that government had closed our borders as from 18 March 2020? Is the state of Covid-19 infection in the country from which people travelling by private jet is coming from assessed before permission is granted by the government to allow the jet to fly to Mauritius? Who checks the health condition and Covid-19 test results of the passengers and the plane crew of the private jet at the airport of embarkation? Have all the incoming passengers been rigorously put in quarantine?

This case is also a warning of the risks that Mauritius can be inadvertently exposed to and provides so many object lessons if we want to keep the country Covid-19 free and the people safe from the risk of Covid-19 infection.

We know from the experience acquired from the cases of repatriated Mauritians that depending on the state of the infection, passengers can be tested Covid-19 negative at the time of embarkation and yet be tested positive on arrival in the country or during the quarantine period. Quarantine is therefore essential for incoming passengers as the testing protocol of three PCR tests carried out on day zero, day 7 and day 14 during the quarantine period ensures that all cases of infection among incoming passengers are detected and isolated for treatment, thus preventing the risk of infection in the community.

As the patient had already been in contact with 14 employees of the private clinic, they have all been tested for Covid-19 and all the test results were negative. In accordance with standard Covid-19 protocol they have all been put in quarantine. It is presumed that where necessary contact tracing and Covid-19 testing will be effected to eliminate any risk of infection in the community.

Getting our priorities right

If one undetected carrier of the Covid-19 can have such a wide and costly ripple effect, can we seriously envisage opening our borders to tourists in the present state of the Covid-19 pandemic in the world and in particular in the countries which are our main sources of tourists? The simple answer is that it would be reckless and irresponsible to do so. The country cannot take the risk of undetected carriers of the virus entering the country to trigger a new wave of coronavirus infection in the country. No amount of precaution can prevent such latent risks when every month tens of thousands of tourists would have to be screened, monitored and managed during their stay in the country.

Our priority must above all be the health and safety of the people and in particular all frontline workers including the hotel staff and all those working in the hospitality business and the travel industry who are in direct contact with tourists and are at risk of being infected by undetected carriers of the virus among the tourists. The lives and safety of people are more important than buttressing the finances of the hotel industry in the present state of the Covid-19 pandemic in the world. This is a difficult decision but there cannot be any compromises on the ethos and ideals the country was founded on and the people’s existential concerns.

The bottom line is that we should take every precaution necessary to prevent a resurgence of Covid-19 in the country and the trauma, dire human hardships and enormous costs of a new lockdown.

* * *

Rays of hope

Scientific research has brought new rays of hope to the world this week. After Remdesivir which is now an approved treatment for Covid-19 which is bringing relief to patients in many countries in the world, two groundbreaking developments have brought fresh hope to the Covid-19 embattled world. In an article published in the medical journal Lancet, research scientists at Oxford University announced that their experimental coronavirus vaccine, being developed with UK based biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, has shown in trials involving 1077 people that it is safe and triggers a protective immune response in hundreds of people who were given the vaccine shot. Trials showed that the injection of the vaccine prompted the production of antibodies and T-cells that can fight coronavirus.

The study also showed that 90% of people developed neutralising antibodies after one dose. Only ten people were given two doses and all of them produced neutralising antibodies. T-cells are a type of white blood cells which are able to spot which of the body’s cells have been infected and destroy them. There is still much work to be done. The next stage of trials will involve 10,000 people in the UK, 30,000 people in the US as well 2000 in South Africa and 5000 in Brazil.

Although the intent is to prove through required testing, validation protocol and approval procedures that the coronavirus vaccine is effective before the end of the year, it will certainly not be widely available. In the best scenario, the coronavirus vaccine could at the earliest be available for widespread vaccination next year.

Innovative pathways

According to the WHO, 140 vaccines are in pre-clinical trials, 19 vaccines are in small scale or expanded safety trials whereas 4 vaccines are in wider testing and effectiveness assessment stage. The various research scientists working in research laboratories across the world are using a wide range of innovative pathways to find an efficient vaccine as early as possible as well as potent treatments to help Covid-19 patients recover.

In the absence of a proven coronavirus vaccine, the effective treatment of Covid-19 patients remains a priority. A University of Southampton related company Synairgen which had previously developed an inhaled form of interferon beta-1a as a therapy for patients with asthma and chronic obstructive airways disease announced this week that a small clinical trial of inhaled interferon beta-1a has shown that this treatment may be effective in patients in hospital with Covid-19. Interferon beta-1a is a substance that the body produces naturally as part of its immune response to viral infections.

Controlled clinical trials involved 101 patients across nine hospital sites in the UK. Data showed that inhaled treatment of interferon beta-1a significantly reduced the risk of developing severe disease during the treatment period by 79%. Patients treated with interferon beta-1a were also more than twice as likely to recover. The controlled trials will have to be validated through a much larger number and range of patients before seeking approval as an accepted treatment for Covid-19.

Putting people first

The world and the caucus of nations cannot risk taking rash decisions which would fuel the spread of the virus and hike the death toll rather than rigorously contain it in the present dire state of the Covid-19 pandemic in the world. Major developments in scientific research provide potent hopes that efficient treatments and vaccines are on track and could be available sooner than expected. As expected, the hugely lucrative business that such discoveries and therapies represent is already breeding cupidity when the world’s common purpose should be to unite as one to above all ensure that protecting people from Covid-19, saving lives and stemming Covid-19 across the world rather than the pursuit of Mammon is the priority of the moment of mankind.

* Published in print edition on 24 July 2020

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