Lorenz butterflies and the scarlet listing of Mauritius

The mingling of messaging destined to the local tribesmen with international diplomacy, can indeed have tricky and unpredictable consequences but nobody can venture that they have had a bearing on French and EU travel advisories

By Jan Arden

The omicron variant has certainly sent many countries onto some knee-jerk, if not panic reaction mode, particularly when the bare minimum was known about the variant’s origins, its capacity to spread, its resistance to vaccines or upcoming drugs and how lethal a threat it is. So much the better if the authorities jump into action rather than let another wave send our public health system and frontliners, still reeling under the delta phase, into more prolonged disarray. But we might have expected a modicum of communication and coordination between agencies, Air Mauritius and the airport health or security for decisions impacting locals and travellers. After all, we have been under siege for well over 18 months!

Liste rouge écarlate. Pic Profession Voyages

And so it was that after the cabinet decision to ban incoming flights and visitors from southern Africa as from Monday 29th November, sanitary and quarantine protocols were ramped up by the High-Level Covid-19 Committee on Saturday “with immediate effect”, leaving flight MK 852 passengers abandoned to officials who had no answers for 5 hours of stress, a situation that has been widely circulated on social media. I guess the MTPA must have expressed regrets individually to all stranded families (locals, residents and visitors) at our knee-jerkism, our airport management misfirings and the stress they had to endure upon arrival.

In a charitable spirit we could ignore the MBC’s role in rehashing the official line for weeks on end that all was well and under control as relayed by the health authorities. Or the ill-timed sortie of the Minister of Tourism on 17th November to an MTPA-invited parterre of select international operators that the pandemic situation was improving and we would soon be back to pre-pandemic levels of activity. Or the weekly charade of statistics and vaccination rates that have become the hallmark of the Ministry of Health’s communication.

It was on the 3rd of December, while the Minister of Tourism had sauntered to the Madrid Tourism Conference, that the PM decided to switch tack and recognise that Mauritius was in the middle of cyclonic conditions, referring one imagines to both pandemic and socio-economic management. One can feel some empathy for the No.2 in government who has been doing his best on BBC, TV5, CNN to hail our worldwide success of our public health situation and the safety of our “resort bubble” for incoming tourists, but to be so publicly out of synch with other major ministries, Education, Health or PMO, must have been galling.

To make matters worse for a government that seemed to run on such multi-polar wheels, came the shock announcement on 1st of December that the French government had extended its list of high-risk southern Africa countries by adding Malawi, Zambia and Mauritius to a “scarlet-red” grouping which meant drastic flight and traveller restrictions to prevent the spread of the omicron virus. We could hardly blame others for similar knee-jerkism we had ourselves stoutly embraced a few days earlier against southern African states, so the only recourse were the desperate pleas from the MTPA, AHRIM and higher spheres of government that France show some consideration for our already damaged tourism sector and its impact on the economy. The French ambassador was urgently plead locally while it befell on the Minister of Tourism in Madrid to engage the French Minister counterpart and other European representatives/partners that our alleged successes in pandemic management did not justify such a rap on the knuckles.

Unfortunately, for a Minister who has often been out of synch with hard and real information about the pandemic situation underlying the PM’s assertion of a cyclone, we can feel pretty confident that the French authorities, ambassador, Health and Tourism Ministers included, know far more about the stark ground reality here than our honorable Minister and will be primarily concerned about the health risks of Reunion and French visitors in the peak season of November to January in an island that has a few weeks previously sent desperate entreaties for supplies, oxygen, ventilators and specialist medical and nursing teams.

All chancelleries read news dispatches, watch social media, have personal networks and are fully attuned to the National Assembly proceedings, the attempts to curb press and media freedoms or to the sad stories making the headlines week after week. The foreign chancelleries, and in particular, the French embassy have not recently discovered how important French, Reunion or European tourists are for the national economy either. The appeal, while necessary in the after-shock, brings unfortunately nothing new to the table.

There has been some speculation in a couple of press interviews whether other factors than the purely health and pandemic management risks could have contributed to our mishaps on the international scene and today’s scarlet rating. One sector professional wondered whether there might have been some geopolitical fallout from other events that have taken a toll on the “blue-eyed” success story island in the Indian ocean. Those are hypothetical disputations.

Nevertheless, we have just been let out of the notorious IMF and EU listings after two years of pain and hard work by all agencies. Have we somewhere, somehow, naively accumulated gaffes and errors that are proving costly? Was it wise to threaten France from the pulpit of the National Assembly that Tromelin would follow suit after the Chagos victory at the United Nations while we are asking for urgent and high-priority medical assistance from the French?

Have we been too smug and dismissive in pushing a narrative that suits some local aficionados, that of a triumphant hero who had taken on the UK and was about to do the same to France? The mingling of messaging destined to the local tribesmen with international diplomacy, can indeed have tricky and unpredictable consequences but nobody can venture that they have had a bearing on French and EU travel advisories and scarlet listing of Mauritius. We would still recommend the story of Lorenz butterflies* as bedside reading for high-level political advisers.

 *The term is closely associated with the work of mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz, who dubbed his discovery “the butterfly effect”: the nonlinear equations that govern the weather have such an incredible sensitivity to initial conditions, that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil could set off a tornado in Texas.

* Published in print edition on 7 December 2021

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