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Second Lockdown – DAY ONE

10.03.2021

Again, the peace and quiet, that peace and quiet that was so shocking and so pleasant in the first lockdown. Again, the birdsong louder. Again, the breeze rustling the breadfruit tree’s giant leaves so loud and clear.


Predicting a lockdown, I had stocked up on paracetamol and cough mixture, which is only one notch up from people who worry about toilet paper or mehenndi. I also managed to borrow a magazine dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the Commune de Paris (1871) just in time. But otherwise, it’s going to have to be a feast of re-reading Kurt Vonnegut novels, the greatest writing of the last century and as easy to read as a comic-book. 


But some paracetamol, a bottle of cough mixture and a magazine, useful as they all three are, fade into insignificance when we, in Ragoo Lane, are relying on CWA contractors’ lorries, an erratic species, for water to fill our little tanks. 


At least we don’t have to worry about no-one being home when the lorry comes – the lockdown has seen to that. Anyway, when it comes, the lorry eventually gets to the spot between our house and our neighbours’ across the road, everyone out in the street as if it’s a slow-moving fancy fair, and then one of us goes up on the roof, and others feed the huge fireman’s hosepipe up and into our open tank. Then, you are well-advised to keep a couple of feet of big hose slack at your feet, because when you shout “Large!” and they pull the rip-cord on the pump, as the hose fills up with water under pressure, it rears up and back like a boa constrictor, and you have to fight with it to keep it in the tank. Anyway, that is one difference in Ragoo Lane between this lockdown and the first one.  We are now here in Ragoo Lane living in a time of water scarcity – you can hardly take a shower we’ve got so many plastic buckets storing water in our bathroom, in case we miss the water cistern lorry, and in the kitchen you trip over pails, and there are full deksi for drinking water here and there on kitchen surfaces. The new dogs, Lock and Down, two adolescent females, who eat the arms of verandah chairs and nip clothes off the line, and are supposed to be on a regime of two baths a week because one of them had the beginnings of mange, have had to say “good-bye” to baths. So much for 24/7. It seems every time they fix a bit of pipe, and the pressure goes up, it bursts the old pipe even more somewhere else, and down the pressure goes again.


Luckily the heavy rains have given the garden a boost, the suran plants looking lush enough to, themselves, be bright plastic like the water buckets, while huge breadfruit and healthy avocadoes hang heavy on the trees – just like during the first lockdown.


Another thing that is the same: the Muvman Liberasyon Fam secretary has put a paid ad in a newspaper as per the Registrar’s law inviting all our members to the AGM. Again the AGM will be in the middle of lock-down, thus again annulled. Again, when we hold the AGM eventually, the treasurer will have to remind us all why on earth there are two ads paid for, for one AGM. 


Anyway, the other thing that is different is this. The vaccines are here. I was number 33, after arriving at Jeetoo Hospital at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. It was quite a jamboree. Luckily in the first 100 or 150, there were a good proportion of us who could get the queue organized, despite us having set it up “wrong”. We had put the first 22 people in the seats that the staff had in mind for those who were waiting out their 14 minutes post-vaccine for the all-clear to go home. But, that was easily organized. Numbers were handed out, and the queue eventually went nearly to the Main Entrance where the funny trees are. The next day, a LALIT member reports, the queue went past Casualty, and was close to reaching Accident and Emergency. Before that I’d been a witness at the Yves Cantin in Black River, too, on the previous Friday. It was a happy event, with jovial nursing and other staff, and a crowd that clapped hands when the vaccines arrived, as if it were the end of a play. Ram and I met a fisherman who had been a neighbour in 1974-5 at La Preneuse and we had lost contact with. Another friend who lives in Black River came to meet us in the queue to get his 10 copies of the REVI LALIT he distributes in the area. And yet another friend who lives nearby brought us bon-bon to help the time pass. After the pikir, there was a lovely sight:  all the people who had had the vaccine sat under big trees, while the nurses sitting at a desk on the sand under one of the big trees, competed with birdsong to call out names to give people their cards. I did not manage to get my vaccine. I checked out on an allergic reaction, and then went to Jeetoo. So, I can compare and contrast two vaccine stations. At Yves Cantin, like Jeetoo, they gave out numbers at some point – which always helps.


Rajni says at Rosebelle, they didn’t have numbers. And their queue starting on the second floor managed to block the entrances to Cancer Wards and other important places before the staff had arrived. One doctor arrived without a mask, in a white coat and with her stethoscope identifying her metye. She proceeded to recognize someone in the chaotic queue, and went and kissed them, and caused a huddle of social-non-distancing. Rajni and another man in the queue then did a bit of theatre in loud, mock sotto voce. He said, “Enn dokter, sa?” and she replied, “No, she can’t possibly be a doctor. Impossible.” She did not react. Rajni continued, “A doctor would not stand there mask-less, then start kissing people in the middle of a queue for vaccines for Covid. No way.” The doctor pretended not to hear. So, Rajni upped the ante.  “Mo krwar nu pu bizin al fer enn rapor ek enn infirmye. Kumkwa ena enn dimunn instab pe deklar ki li enn dokter.” That worked. 


And because there were not numbers, there was another phenomenon. As you got near the front say only 25 people ahead of you, one or two people would use their cellphones. And then the queue would, some minutes later, swell in front of you. The one person could become six. All this to say, numbers is good.


At Jeetoo, there was one near-incident. A former Minister arrived, escorted by someone in Administration, and the ex-Minister ushered his father in at the front of the queue. A brouhaha was about to break out, when someone said, “Jayde”. He, the ex-Minister, and he, the bureaucrat making him break the queue, are the ones to be ashamed. 


All this to say that people are keen to get the vaccine. Some front-liners, including nursing staff, had not taken up the vaccine when they got priority – being we hear heavily influenced by French social media anti-vax propaganda, including conspiracy theories – but then panicking when they realized they had been mistaken.  There is still a mobile clinic for front-liners available, but there are queues there, too, now.


Unfortunately, the vaccines will not be able to be administered fast enough, in all likelihood. In Mauritius the masses of the people were so fantastic that the epidemic was completely quelled after a 72-day strict lockdown, brilliant individual contact tracing, interviews, tests and isolation, plus admission to hospital of all positive cases. This is an extreme regime. But it has meant that Mauritius has had normal-ish life from 26 April, 2020 until last week, there have been no local cases of transmission at all. (One exception: a man returning from abroad, transmitted Covid to his son, having himself tested positive well over the 14 day usual maximum that is respected by the Quarantine protocol followed here.)


Now, there is one whole cluster, plus four cases picked up in the flu-clinic screening, and not related to the cluster. Thus the lockdown.


Today is total lockdown.


Then we go shopping by alphabet only. I go back to Mondays and Thursdays. In my case, if at all. Kisna Tuesday and Fridays, even more if at all. Ram Wednesdays and Saturdays, which he will do. I wonder if they will make us push our trolleys around following arrows and not allowed to turn back? And then Sunday is the day of rest. No-one who is not in a few key essential services goes to work. No public transport. 


And we will be informed as to how the vaccine campaign will be organized. Hopefully in a way that does not help the virus spread.


So, I have missed you, dear readers. My last lockdown blog was on 31 May last year. We were all rewarded with more-or-less normal life for a whole nine months. And now it’s isolation again. For us in little lanes in villages, or in working class housing estates, it is not so isolated. We chat in the road out front all day long – from a little distance. For many working class families, it is over-crowded indoors so it’s essential to be out on the road. But for people in the upper and middle classes, the isolation can be severe. And without domestic staff, there’s a lot of work they are not used to doing. So, the epidemic affects each of us, once again, both the same – and very differently. Rich or poor, looking after children cooped up all day is not easy. Even more difficult is being mentally ill in these lockdown conditions, and equally difficult is looking after people who are mentally ill. So, let’s all take a resolution to call out to neighbours on the left, the right, behind and in front, at the diagonals – just to share a few words, and maybe a cell phone number.


The 25 March seems a long way away. And we don’t know if it is going to be possible to lift the lockdown without letting the epidemic loose on the hospital staff of the country by that date. Already, just because of all the people in quarantine, all the vaccine centres and mobile centres, all the people tested positive and thus admitted to ENT, all the flu clinics in the hospitals, and all the special wards for suspected cases, nurses on ALL wards in all hospitals have over the past two days found themselves ALONE in charge of a ward all night long. It is already serious. LALIT warned of this weakness a year ago. We eventually got the nurses’ unions to take a stand for recruiting more staff. But this recruitment has been sluggish. The situation may get dire.   


Lindsey Collen