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Closing and Re-Opening Borders


The debate between L’Express director and LALIT member Lindsey Collen has opened up the debate on economic issues that have become even more pressing, given the pandemic. Here, Ram Seegobin and Lindsey Collen bring up three more points:

In rejoinder to the Philippe Forget rejoinder, two or three brief points about re-opening the borders for tourism:

Why were the borders closed in the first place?

First, the hotel bosses who want to open the borders swiftly really do have to answer the question as to why the borders were closed in the first place, and what has changed since. The reason for closing the borders was that there was a lot of coronavirus disease outside of the country and very little inside. In fact there were the three first cases detected the day the decision was taken. So, closing the borders was aimed at keeping the Coronavirus disease out. En passant, some people criticized the MSM Government for being too late by a couple of days. True. But, no-one that I know of criticized the Jugnauth Government for closing the borders. 

But, now the question is: What exactly has changed since the borders were, with good reason, closed?

Not much. There is still a lot of the disease in the countries tourists come from, perhaps more than then, and there are now no cases at all in the Republic of Mauritius – nor have there been for three months. It seems clear-cut.

It is true, you may argue, that knowledge about Covid-19 has grown, but the science on the rates of infectiousness, morbity or mortality have remained much the same. The epidemic still unfolds in ways that threaten to overwhelm health services and risk collapsing them. If anything, medium and long-term effects of getting the illness are now of new concern. There is still no specific treatment for Covid-19 yet, let alone a cure. And no vaccine either.  

So, the onus is on the hotel bosses & Co to explain what has changed since the borders were closed? 

It is possible that Trump, being the US President, has gained a certain influence amongst them – what with his line about Covid-19 being nothing more than “the sniffles” or “just flu”? Is this what has changed? That the bosses here are influenced by Trump’s pseudo-science on this? I doubt it. Trump has, in any case, at the same time as talking about “sniffles”, also been threatening that the USA “[we] could cut off the whole relationship” with China because of its mis-handling of the epidemic at the time of the original outbreak. If the illness were just “sniffles” as Trump claims it is, this would hardly constitute sufficient cause to sever US relations with China. More recently in an interview with Axios reporter Jonathan Swan, Trump admitted, “This is a horrible plague that beset us.” So much for “the sniffles” and “the flu”. All this to say, that I don’t think the bosses could consciously be influenced by Trump.

So, the question remains: What has changed? This needs to be answered.

Hotel workers

While people working in hotels, and in other tourism-related fields, are obviously worried about how they will survive without tourists, we should remember that they are between a rock and a hard place. No work if borders remain closed, and if borders are re-opened, exposure to possible infection on a daily basis and to actually getting infected and taking the illness home to family and friends. Worse still. If, once borders are re-opened and the epidemic gets triggered again, the hotels then just have to close down again, all the investment in re-opening will be down the drain. In any case, will tourists come in numbers sufficient not to be an economic disaster? 

All this explains why it is important to think beyond tourism, to consider creating new sectors, new jobs of all kinds, and to consider assuring an income and food for everyone. Is it not time to think outside the old boxes? We are in a crisis. This is why in LALIT we are so concerned with job creation and food security. We genuinely fear that, as a country, we risk far, far worse economic and social problems ahead if we don’t assure essentials.

Health Ministry Workers

It is true, as Philippe Forget reminded me, that he has always taken a stand in favour of the malaria-prevention part of the Health Ministry. But his concern that contact-tracers will be superfluous after the epidemic is weak as a reason for allowing the country to be over-run by an epidemic. Just because a few dozen workers will remain in the civil service afterwards, you don’t recruit the staff to trace-isolate-test-treat efficiently enough to prevent a second wave? Note that the sub-contracting out to the private sector instead of directly recruiting to all the NHS’s decentralized General Practitioners’ Firms, has contributed to the disaster in the Britain. In any case, once trained, the tracers could easily do the essential work of transmitting their knowledge in a new role as educators in both primary and secondary schools. This way Mauritian children would learn to get their heads around the way epidemics work and thus prepare the country for future, possibly worse, epidemics. 

But, Mr. Forget did not reply about the crying need for more nurses. Hospital nurses are all working in the hyper-stress of being under-staffed right nowBefore any second wave. They are exhausted. Right now, when there are zero cases. Why? On every ward, there are over one-third of nurses missing. On top of being understaffed from before the epidemic, ward nurses are now seconded to quarantine centres for returning Mauritians. And after two weeks doing this work, each nurse seconded there then has to go into two weeks quarantine, as an individual. So, there is a key work sector, the very one that is threatened with being overwhelmed should the epidemic return, that is already understaffed and under remarkable stress even now. So, leave aside opening up for tourism, and leave aside doing it soon, there remains an urgent need just to keep Mauritians returning from abroad, for more nurses. We need to call for the Minister of Health to at once publicly announce recruitment, and then train up of literally hundreds of new nursing staff before even thinking of risking a second wave of the epidemic. By nursing staff, we mean nurses, assistant nurses, attendants and hospital domestic workers. Which was why the question in Lalit’s original article was put to those bosses calling for an early re-opening for tourism: do they agree to sign up as volunteers to help nurses in the ICU, or on other Covid-10 Wards, as credentials for the advice they are giving Government to risk a second wave – just for one fortnight?.