Yesterday afternoon for about an hour around four o’clock, we were treated, in Bambous, to a live ravann solo concert. I think the music was coming from up in Mangue Vert Doux where there a virtuoso lives. It was a beautiful, complex, joyful percussion of the highest order. It resonated and filled the air.
Then we were brought down to earth by the daily government briefing on the coronavirus epidemic. Dr. Joomye in his daily briefing is as boring as the Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo is riveting in his. On this axis, it does not mean one is better than the other. What I can say, however, is that Andrew Cuomo’s mastering of his mother tongue is about five million times superior to Dr. Joomye’s of his own. The Government spokesman’s poor level of spoken Kreol means that the content of what he is trying to express is often approximate or inaccurate and, as a listener, you have to correct for his grammatical errors and his Frenchified nonsense-talk. Talking of his pretending to have poor language skills (I mean that he, by speaking Kreol so badly intends to impart to us that he was born a French-speaker but unfortunately has to lower himself to try to speak in Kreol so that everyone can understand him), I must mention that in the silence of the new traffic-free Ragoo Lane, I can on two sides (where there are little babies) hear the dulcet warbling of adults speaking the most beautiful, the most riveting baby-talk at all times of day. Music to the ear. This sound is quite as hypnotic as Governor Cuomo’s briefing. But, Joomye’s gobbledygook language is discordant to the ear, and is evidently delivered, by definition, in a concomitant monotone. Not music to any ear.
Anyway, yesterday, his content – hard as it is to grasp with any clarity, given the “characid” and “bargain” that he speaks instead of Mauritian Kreol – was interesting. Joomye gave us results of the first batch of instant-mass-tests done yesterday on hospital staff, police officers and others on the virus front-line. Of the 4,000 tests done yesterday (New York on the same day was proud of 7,500), two turned up positive. The previous day, in the ordinary testing, one worker at a home was picked up positive. Every day from now, they intend to ramp up to 8,000 a day. So, contact tracing will have to go ahead full speed to keep ahead of the virus spread. There are 50 teams, Dr Joomye says, being trained to do the new mass-testing. In LALIT we hope there are enough contact-tracers being trained to keep up, too. If each of the four new “positive” cases, who are hospitalized in Mauritius, symptomatic or asymptomatic, had about 10 contacts only, given the lockdown, this means a first layer of 30 people, and as more turn up positive, this produces new sets of contacts to visit. It is only by test-isolate, and then trace-test-isolate, methods that the virus can continue to be contained at these levels that do not overwhelm the health and even funeral services. This tracing-and-testing is the only way that the lockdown can possibly begin to be lifted without once again provoking exponential increases that both threaten the health system and cause so many deaths. And even then, we have to keep up very strict measures of physical distance from each other, as well as universal mask-wearing (so those who have the illness unbeknown to them do not spread it), regular hand-washing and surface cleaning. The minute the Covid 19 statistics grow too fast, new lockdowns will be necessary.
And as I write, a friend forwards the sad news of the 10th death in Mauritius, reported in all the online press: a doctor, who had received in his private consulting rooms the “Patient Zero”, who he, in turn, referred to a private clinic, and who was finally sent to Candos Government Hospital, where he was diagnosed with Covid-19. Dr. Joomye had told us yesterday his condition was “critical”.
And each one death reminds us that, had we not been living in this isolation from each other, that we, too, could be in line to die or to have someone close to us die. The time it has taken for the man to die reminds us also of the suffering in ICU before death, and of the way this illness weighs so heavy on health services.
And witnessing this suffering was what caused the top doctor dealing with Covid-19 patients at the Manhattan hospital, 48-year old Dr. Lorna Breen, to commit suicide. Before killing herself she told of traumatic scenes she had borne witness to, including an onslaught of patients dying in front of her before they could even be removed from ambulances, according to the NY Daily News.
She was head of the emergency department and had herself got the virus, and had only 10 days off work, before going back to work. She had no history of mental health problems.
Another Bronx para-medic of only 23 years old committed suicide two days earlier.
So, when we moan about a bit of cabin fever, when we think that everything can be opened up fast, it is always worth remembering that the epidemic, even with our containment and mitigation measures, means this degree of stress for medical staff, from top doctor to staff pushing the trolleys. And that, when this collapses, society including all aspects of the economy is really in deep trouble. The economy is not separate from the capacity of the health services to cope. In New York City even the funeral services could not cope, and mass burials had to be resorted to at the height of the peak.
While in Nigeria yesterday, in the region of Kano state, the death toll rose sharply. Those working in the cemeteries said they had never seen as many deaths. The officials have reported that the rise is not directly due to Covid-19, but that the mysterious increase in deaths is in fact due to other medical services, especially private clinics, having collapsed due to inability to cope with the Covid-19, and thus by their closure provoking death from uncontrolled and untreated diabetes, high blood-pressure, meningitis and acute malaria, according to Reuters News.
I mention the toll on the health services so that I, and you who are reading this, can perhaps get our heads around this false dichotomy of “health-care-lockdown-measures” OR “the economy”. The economy will totally collapse if the health care system cannot cope, if it is knocked down by the epidemic. That is what we have to keep in mind during the lockdown. That is what we are avoiding by our health-care-isolation measures. And when we succeed in avoiding this disaster, we have the difficult task of remembering that it is our own actions that led to the decrease in the epidemic. And it is our own actions that will continue to keep the epidemic under control – or, if we let up, cause the epidemic to overwhelm first the health services, and then the whole of society, including the economy. That is the very dynamic situation we have to get our heads around, keep our heads around, and help our friends, colleagues and family get their heads around.
for LALIT, a personal viewpoint.