Hospital workers and other public sector workers are, during this epidemic, our family members. They go out and look for us if we are at risk, and we don’t even know it. They then check if we are well. That is the tracing-and-testing teams around the Bureau Sanitaire. Then, if we have been exposed, hospital staff helps us in isolation. And if we have the bad luck to be positive, they care for us. And if we get really bad, cases, they are the human contact – even if via Personal Protective Equipment – when we get very sick in ICU. Hospital staff take care of our little children when we cannot because they need to be isolated from us because of the illness. And it is even hospital staff that guide us to our own funeral, when the rest of our family is too sick to do so, if we die – as happened and was recounted by Dr. Gujadhur in the case for one stricken family.
So, the epidemic teaches us, educates us, that we are not just a nuclear, or even just an extended, family. It is not just blood relatives who are family but everyone in the country. The virus knows no rich nor poor, when it strikes. And the hospital staff look after rich and poor alike. The clinics are no good in times of epidemic – except to back up other hospital care. In the UK, did 750,000 people not volunteer to help the National Health Service, knowing everyone is family? In Mauritius, the universal, free health care system along with the trace-and-test teams are holding up remarkably well so far. They need our help. Our help is to stay isolated – as much as possible. Our help is to support them.
And we are not just family with everyone in our own country only, either. Did 300 emergency doctors from China not get on planes and go to Italy to help, as if Italians were family? From Cuba, didn’t skilled health workers volunteer to be in brigades to Grenada, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Italy? That is a country not much bigger than ours.
And, it is not just those workers doing the direct care work, not just the doctors and nurses looking after the Covid-19 cases, not just the “trace-and-test” teams, but all the hospital records staff, the cleaners, the ambulance drivers, the auxiliary staff, those preparing patients’ food, those in the laundry sections, the disposal teams, and sadly, the staff at the mortuary.
The health authorities, we hear from a number of friends in the sector, are re-organizing a “crisis-time” roster for staff, like nurses. So, staff will be marshalled from all hospitals, dispensaries and other duties to do a three week spell on coronavirus disease-related work: one week on duty in the Coronavirus sector – which is in three parts, those in quarantine, those positive but not too sick or not sick, and those very sick – and then two weeks off, in quarantine (either self or at a requisitioned hotel).
After this three-week roster is completed, they then go back home and on to work with non-corona virus cases in hospitals and dispensaries and health centres, on shifts that have been altered already, for the crisis. This means caring for the diabetes and blood pressure patients (routine at dispensaries and those that need stabilizing in hospital), the minor injuries and infections, children’s wards for this and that, the bed-ridden with cancer or renal problems, the orthopedic wards for treating home-type accidents and previous cases with their limbs still under repair. As so few cars and motorbikes are on the roads, accidents have decreased drastically. Work accidents too, are down.
The maternity wards are, I think, left out of all this – what with their own natural rhythms of each pregnancy running its course, moving inexorably into labour, then to child-birth and breast-feeding. I have a good friend, a young woman, working in one of these wards in New York City – you might see the hospital she is at, Mount Sinai, if you watch the international news, what with New York City being the world epicentre of the epidemic for the moment.
And other work also goes on. The social security workers will once again be giving the annual universal flu jabs for the over-60s, the Minister announced yesterday. Even during the shut-down. It was a difficult decision for the government to come to. It may cause some queues, thus risk exacerbating the spread of Covid-19. The seasonal flu may already be hampered, in its spread, by the lockdown keeping us apart. But, then again, the seasonal flu is a challenge to the hospital system every year, in normal years. So, their decision is probably, on balance, the better choice. But again – that depends on us being self-disciplined.
Other workers exposed at the front line are: refuse collectors, who continue their vital work. And there are people working in the food supply chain: from the docks, to stores, to supermarkets and shops, and to the public. Everyone is still congratulating LALIT on having always put “food security” on the agenda. We still hear nothing on this from the Authorities. What are they doing? Is one-third of all land being turned over to immediate food planting – with factories to preserve the food set up by the first harvest?
Today, we had more chats from the top of our house with neighbours on the tops of theirs. About this and that in the silence of bird calls. That really respects social distance. And friends contact each other by phone and internet – about recipes. I have a failed recipe to announce: mould formed in my pineapple-peel brew. So there is more proof that small organisms are very clever at outwitting us. Some that are not even independent life – like viruses – can do it.
The silence can help us begin to think of how to come out of the social crisis that this one little virus has caused. Do we want to come out of it with the heavy load of problems we had before:
- The threat worse than ever of nuclear war, or nuclear accident or a mixture of the two?
- Social and class inequality that makes us all live in class bubbles – the invisible capitalists (seen only by their flocks of domestic servants – including personal trainers, spiritual gurus, etc.) – the slightly more visible elites in their smaller gated communities, the working classes doing two or three jobs a week to make ends meet, the working class that thinks it’s is the middle class and that is mortgaged to the hilt, and the underclasses that do gigs for work, and live from hand to mouth?
- A planet that goes back to being ruined by our pollution?
- A planet where species are pushed into extinction, and where, incidentally, viruses are forced to hop on to other species, like ours?
- A planet dominated by the extreme-right wing views being pumped around an internet that’s run for various kinds of advertisement-type manipulation, designed to undermine and divide us into inward-looking little families that buy, and buy into, any product or idea?
Let’s come out on the other side demanding and mobilizing a new world – where we are all essential workers! And thus all essentially family.
And here, to conclude for today, is an Arundhati Roy article on the Coronavirus – in the world and in India – that a friend forwarded and that you may like to read -
for LALIT, a personal view.