The tourist bosses in Mauritius cannot help themselves. Even as cases of Covid-19 sky-rocket in France, Reunion, South Africa and other sources of tourists to Mauritius, they go on putting pressure on the Government to “open the borders”. And they do this without any emphasis on the health ministry infrastructure for contact-tracing, nor on the staff-shortages in the universal health care system. One of the demands of the Bruneau Laurette demonstration of 29 August, as put forward by spokesperson Patrick Belcourt, was to “open up the borders”. The Prime Minister responded by announcing a loosening of border restrictions as from 1 October.
The reasons for closing the borders were clear to everyone. The justification for opening them is not at all clear. All that the Mauritian people have accomplished thus far to contain the illness – no new local cases for over four months – could be ruined in a matter of weeks if the Government makes the mistake of opening the borders when not properly prepared for an outbreak. The Republic of Mauritius will finish like the colony of Reunion next door: on red alert. In LALIT, we warn: Beware!
The unusualness of the Mauritian peoples’ success should not be under-estimated.
On 4 September, “WHO Africa” analysed the relative success of the Mauritian people in quelling the first wave of the Novel Coronavirus epidemic. The article on the WHO site says, “it took just five weeks to bring down the infections from a cluster of local cases to zero cases, becoming the first in Africa to contain the spread of COVID-19”. The article credited this to “quick action in enforcing a raft of stringent preventive and control measures”.
This successful containment of the Coronavirus epidemic could be completely undone in just a few weeks. Why? Because the Government is likely to give in to the ongoing pressures of an insensitive and stubborn hotel owners’ lobby. The Jugnauth Government almost inevitably ends up bowing to capitalist class pressure – and it does this the minute representatives of other classes allow it.
With the borders closed, it is evident that the tourist industry, on which Mauritius is grossly over-reliant, is at a low ebb. Mauritius ought not to have this over-dependence on tourism. It is positively dangerous. Six months have passed since the epidemic, and the tourist hotel owners have made no effort whatsoever to shift their capital, or a part of it, away from this non-essential, fragilized sector, to more viable, and more essential industries.
No, they just sit around, militating for the borders to be opened.
Meanwhile, rich upper-class Mauritians, stranded here not able to take their usual shopping and other holidays abroad, now crowd into some of the empty tourist hotels for week-ends and splash their money against the walls. Meanwhile, Mauritians coming from abroad spend their quarantine time in other hotels, housed at Government expense, so far. And the hotel bosses, for all their protests at any Government expenditure, have had their workers paid their monthly basic wages by Government, and these same bosses are now queueing up for the secretive Mauritius Investment Corporationcapital that government has made available to capitalists from Central Bank funds. Top management have had their wages cut – some by one-third, from, say, Rs300,000 to Rs 200,000 per month – reminding them that they are only a pay-check away from their own idea of disaster, when the real boss can kick them out altogether. But also reminding them that most other staff, meanwhile, live off the Rs 11,200 or whatever their basic wage is that the Government pays the bosses to pay them each month.
Anyway, the tourist hotel bosses refuse to diversify. They instead put pressure on the State to open up the borders and let the tourists in. They add “with strict measures” so as to cover the violence of their words.
But we, in LALIT, have not once seen any of these bosses talking about the need to develop the existing preventive and control measures. In particular, we have never heard them calling for the State to ensure dozens of new contact-tracers are taken on for training. Do the bosses even know how contact-tracing works? Do they care?
Nor have we ever heard them checking that hospitals are not understaffed, are not perhaps short of nurses and other workers. Do they know? Do they not notice that it is hospital staff that are in charge of quarantine centres in their hotels? Where do they think these nurses and other staff are pulled from? They are pulled out of wards that were already understaffed before Covid. That’s where. And when at the Airport, testing starts (one of their proposed “strict measures”, no doubt) where on earth do the staff get drawn from? And when there is an outbreak – we do not say “if”, but “when” -- it is these understaffed wards that will have to face the epidemic.
And when borders are opened again, who is more exposed to the incoming epidemic? Hotel bosses or their staff?
In any case, should borders be opened too quickly, they will no doubt have to be closed again, with a second lockdown, should Mauritius become overwhelmed by the epidemic, like our brothers and sisters in Reunion are.
This is why we call on hotel owners and top management to be asked to volunteer as nursing assistants at hospitals, should the epidemic break out again. This way they will know the measure of their call for opening the borders. Just two weeks as volunteers should be enough for them to learn what the meaning of an epidemic not-contained is.