Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth has announced that visitors from the European union (including UK and Switzerland) will not be allowed in as from Wednesday, and from French colony, Reunion, as from tonight. This is because the WHO has declared Europe to be the epicenter of the epidemic of new Coronavirus. Until now, travelers from China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Iran and Italy have been barred.
There are over 100 people, whatever their nationality, already in quarantine sites, if they were over the previous 2 weeks in countries with high numbers of cases.
So far, there have been no cases, i.e. no positive tests, for Covid-19, the new Coronavirus illness, in Mauritius. So, while exposed because of a tourist industry, Mauritius has so far been spared any cases, the Prime Minister said. Quite rightly, he warned against all the rumours and false reports that people have been spreading.
LALIT believes that it is in times of epidemics, a country’s health system, particularly preventive health, and its degree of social cohesion can be judged.
We note that Mauritius, with its experience of eradicating malaria completely and keeping the illness away, has a head-start. There is a collective memory that all kinds of mobilization – to clean up all stagnant water, including doing away with cans, and cutting bamboo hedges at the node, and reporting cases quickly – so that anti-mosquito measures can be taken in the vicinity of the case. And in LALIT, we often ponder over whether in any other country a health official rings you, or visits you, the very day after your arrival in the country if you have been to a malaria infected area? And he takes a blood sample?
In addition, LALIT notes that the universal health service is pretty robust in ordinary times, with its network of free dispensaries, free health centres and free hospitals. By contrast, the USA where commercialized, private medicine is rampant, the response to the virus epidemic is positively disastrous. It is as though, other than people working in the preventive health sector, itself, the entire population of the USA has no shared experience of health care and is ignorant as to what a “health care system” means. They only know about buying services and products once you are sick. They do not have “health care” in the USA so much as having to scramble to buy “cures” sold at a price for sickness. This makes the country more exposed to the dangers of epidemics.
So, in LALIT, we believe that Mauritius has certain advantages.
But all depends now on us all realizing and understanding that the epidemic will no doubt soon be here, and that we must take some basic precautions.
These precautions are important so as to slow down the spread of the epidemic.
This is a concept that cannot be understood except in a collective way. We need, as a whole society, to prevent the over-loading of the hospital services. This staggering of the cases over a few more weeks than the epidemic would otherwise take – even if in the end the same number of people get the virus – makes a huge difference. This is what doctors call flattening the curve on the graph enough to allow the health services to cope. Here is what happens if we do not take precautions that will slow down the spread of the illness:
If the hospital services get too overloaded and get near collapse, or worse still actually collapse, this means three things:
1. Patients with Covid-19 in its severe form are too many for the number of available ventilators, for example, so this causes many who would not otherwise have died, to actually die.
2. Once the hospital and dispensary services falter, people with other illnesses – like heart attacks, ordinary pneumonia, renal problems, even on children’s wards, and anyone who has had an accident, will also be exposed to severe risks and even death at much higher rates. This is simply because the entire health service will be affected, not just the wards in hospitals looking after those with Coronavirus. Hospitals are well-nigh full most of the time, anyway. So, any epidemic is a strain.
3. At a certain point, if the epidemic spreads too fast, too many doctors, nurses and other hospital staff, like everyone else, will be on sick leave or even admitted as patients if there is a sharp peak in the illness, and this will add to the strain on the health care services. The doctors and the specialists and the nurses and the hospital attendants that look after everyone in the country will, like everyone else in the country, be off work, and often ill, in large numbers at the same time.
So, in order to slow down the propagation of the illness, we all need to:
Wash hands regularly and well with soap.
Avoid shaking hands and kissing cheeks.
Avoid touching our noses and mouths and eyes.
Sneeze into our bent left elbow.
Keep a metre or so distance from others, when possible.
In addition, to prevent the entire society suffering because of any future shortages of essential goods, as international trade slows down, we must avoid panic buying.
The only silver lining of the new Coronavirus is in terms of what we can learn. For example:
1. It is vital to prevent our health service from being privatized. Remember that Pravind Jugnauth wants to force civil servants into a private insurance-plus-clinics health route. This is a partial privatization. In times of epidemics, having a proper universal, free health service for all, is vital.
2. It is also vital to develop better preventive health in the country. This means taking on more staff in the Bureau Sanitaire and for malaria and other illness control.
3. It is vital for Mauritius to set about getting food security. Once an epidemic is declared, goods do not flow as easily. This means it is essential, as LALIT has long campaigned, that Government forces the big land-owners to use a proportion of their land for food products – edible peanut and sunflower oil, beans and maize and peas, potatoes and onions – with factories set up before the first big harvest, on all sugar estates, for preserving and transforming these food products.
Mauritius is, at the same time, under the threat of a Cyclone, Herold. And there are a few cases in Port Louis of dengue fever. So, an epoch of both climate problems and epidemics may be just beginning with pollution causing global warming and with populations becoming more and more dense.