Last night during the 7.30 pm TV news Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth announced the closure of all shops, supermarkets and bakeries as well as the closing of all public transport as from this morning for a period of one week, i.e. to 31 March. Unfortunately, the Government did not announce measures for providing people with essential foodstuff until the next day, today. This was very reckless.
As today is a public holiday and everything was due to be shut down anyway, we thought, after the announcement of a health emergency curfew, that any civil disorder this might cause would probably be delayed 24 to 36 hours. But a social network rumour of such disorder was not delayed. Within minutes of his uploading a post two or three hours after the Jugnauth announcement, the rumour spread like fire in a cane field. Once we, in LALIT, had traced it to Jameel Peerally, we at once suggested people consider it a rumour until otherwise proven. (We already have a warning out against just believing anything alarming.) He is the man who in 2011 led the fiasco social network call, Wanted 15,000 Youngsters. Cartoonists rightly drew him as the Pied Piper of Hamlin. He, and two other social networkers are now being questioned by police under accusations of disseminating fake news, a criminal offense. Jameel Peerally has meanwhile apologized on line, saying that supposedly even the police were duped.
Anyway, today at 11:30 am today the Government announced its measures for the “needy”. There will be 35,000 food parcels for those on the Social Register of Mauritius (SRM) that the NEF looks after, carers, homes and people living with disability. This will be home-delivered by government staff and in government vehicles. This is an ambitious plan, and we will all need to co-operate with staff putting the plan into action.
The Government also announced that the Government together with the Chamber of Commerce (MCCI) will arrange home deliveries for everyone else in the country. This is an even more ambitious plan. Details will be announced “later today”, we are told. Details will be on two websites – the Ministry of Commerce and the MCCI itself. This will be as important as the first measure above. Many families buy food every day and have no stocks. A good many use the money they make that very day – in the informal economy – to buy that day’s food. Others run up debts for a month until pay-day, due soon. Others use their pension money sparingly day by day. So, the suffering for this next week, and probably more than just those seven days, will be acute for people without the promised Government help.
The Government has set up a Covid-19 Solidarity Fund, and all MSM-ML Members of Parliament and Ministers will pay 10% of their salary into the fund this month. Bank details for contributions will be announced later.
The Chinese Government will be sending an aeroplane-load of equipment – protective clothing, masks and the essential respirators – in the coming days. As soon as Mauritius can gauge its need, a plane will be dispatched to fetch the stocks. This marks an important geo-political shift that the world is seeing and has, for a few years, been seeing. In Mauritius it would have been “natural” that the UK, France or the USA step in. Now, it seems natural that it is China that steps in.
So, we are no longer living under a lockdown based on social distancing, but now under a total sanitary curfew. What are open are pharmacies, local little fresh chicken shops and green grocers.
As well as people’s anxiety about the spread of this new epidemic, and how they will face its challenges, there are still the remnants of a level of hysteria, especially in the petty bourgeoisie, about the November general elections supposedly having been trike. And of course, in addition, there are some ten thousand people living in the now-accentuated daily anguish of being dependent on a substance ever harder to procure.
All this to say, that keeping calm is important. Keep calm. And share.
The need for this absolute lockdown
Today the health minister announced that cases have gone up from 36 to 48 in one day. Most cases are those in quarantine (from abroad) and those traced by contact tracers.
In LALIT we have observed how it is only total lockdown, like a health curfew, that allows the virus spread to be halted. Anything less has, so far, caused and is still causing, utter chaos.
In China and South Korea they have managed. And in one town in Italy with an experiment at total sanitary curfew, they have succeeded too.
We are now seeing clearly that the problem with “flattening the curve” by just slowing the virus down a bit is not enough for this particular Coronavirus disease. It spreads both too fast and causes too much illness and death to just flatten the curve somewhat. To allow even very good health services like those in Northern Italy to cope, one has to completely flatten the curve into a near straight line, which the Italian State has not been able to organize. In a week or two we will get a better idea of the number of cases and deaths in Europe, and then in the USA, which is lagging behind by about a week or two.
We see how the cases and deaths are rising fast (rounded figures from today on Worldometer site). They are in order of number of cases world-wide for today:
China – 81,000 3,000
Italy – 69,000 6,820
USA – 55,000 780
Spain – 42,000 3,000
Germany – 33,000 160
The figures for number of cases depend on the number of tests done, not on the real number of cases.
Yesterday, we were sent a link to a video-conference call, which may interest you, as a reader. It is a group of private sector bosses in Australia getting advice from Yaneer Bar-Yam, the MIT trained physicist and systems analyst who works on complex systems, in particular on epidemics. The MIT-Harvard expert says the only way to deal with this particular epidemic is a 5-week total lockdown. The Australian bosses asked him if he would accept to advise the Australian Prime Minister if asked. The link is:
LALIT now demands that the State do the following:
1. That the food supplies for all vulnerable working class families are maintained for the duration of the sanitary curfew.
2. That Government take on new “contact tracers” in the Health Ministry and bring in retired Sanitaire workers to help with training.
3. Give doctors and nurses the choice of living in hotels that Government requisitions (near their hospitals) until the end of the epidemic, as some doctors have already requested, so as to shield their families from infections they may inadvertently get.
4. Draw Mauritius up into units at the level of village councils and town “wards” so that local representatives can help with contact tracing. And then, when Mauritius comes out of the epidemic, the state can open up slowly from those areas that have none of the illness being allowed to circulate, but only within their village. Even though the mandate of village councils has ended, those who were elected can nevertheless check for outbreaks after the curfew is lifted.
In LALIT, we note two conflicting tendencies within this state of health emergency: one towards a kind of dictatorial government that we must turn around to democracy afterwards when the epidemic is controlled, and the other towards more social equality and class equality, where everyone will be looked after by a single health care service, where the laws of the land apply to rich and poor alike, and where there is constant care for those who need it. This we need to nurture after the end of the epidemic.
for LALIT, a personal view.