Ram woke up and announced “Hurray! It’s a public holiday!” That’s his sense of humour.
So we were lying in bed laughing that public holidays don’t mean anything anymore – in a lockdown. What’s more, I can even go grocery shopping, by alphabet, until 8 o’clock at night instead of the usual public holiday, when it’s half-day only. Like Alice in Wonderland.
There are sounds in the village of conches being blown down at the Shiwala and of songs being sung to the glory of Shiva on people’s radios reminding us, when lockdown days all want to become the same, that the public holiday is Maha Shivratri.
I must say, at this point, how impressed I am with all the different religious organizations in Mauritius – without as far as I know, any exception – showing care for the common good in their unequivocal and immediate cancellation of gatherings the minute the Covid alarm was raised.
But today we begin a period of fairly high anxiety.
All we can do is sit tight, respect all the public health best practices ourselves, and wait for the tests, contact tracing, and more tests to be concluded by the health ministry workers.
We just do not know how much the Coronavirus has already spread?
We just don’t know yet.
We don’t know where the cases broke through the quarantine barrier, either. Is it what Dr. Gujadhur, who should know because he was in charge until he retired recently, suggested on a radio program yesterday that it is probably the result of two changes in the Protocol that worked so well last time. Last time in Mauritius, it took 39 days for the epidemic to be totally contained. There had been 337 cases, and by 26 April last year, the epidemic was contained. He says it’s a world record. Anyway, the two changes to the successful Protocol that he deplores are as follows, if I understand correctly:
1. That it is hotel bosses are now in charge of quarantine centres. It is not senior hospital managers who oversee the centres anymore i.e. health workers at the centres now work under the orders of a hotel manager. I agree with Dr. Gujadhur that this seems a major breach in a public health set-up. Imagine the public health basic rules that would need to have been internalized to organize all the food chains and disposal chains during 14 days’ quarantine. And imagine when they clash with the reflex profit motive?
2. That there used to be a cast-iron rule that, after your 14 days’ quarantine, if anyone in your group had tested positive, you had to stay an additional seven days in quarantine, and get another negative test. This rule was scrapped, too. This also sounds a dangerous short-cut.
Surely we should immediately shift back to the previous Protocol.
The Nursing Association president, Ram Nowzadick, also on the program mentions the weakness of home quarantine arrangements for air hostesses and pilots as well as for nursing staff, who have worked in quarantine centres being possible routes for viruses to follow. On the nursing staff, he knows better than anyone else. Should there be provision for staff to opt to do their quarantine in a hotel?
One of the main problems that LALIT has been shouting from the rooftops is the shortage of nursing staff. This is already a chronic problem. We are pleased to note that L’Express editor Philippe Forget, when himself standing in the queue at Yves Cantin Government hospital for the Covid Vaccine realized this for the first time. We saw the fine lanbyans the health workers created there, under not easy conditions.
Remember, the already overworked-in-normal-times hospital staff, especially nursing staff, are now also doing the following:
1. Staffing all the quarantine centres in all those hotels. Then, after 14 days, self-quarantining for a week. Thus depriving their normal hospital ward of their services.
2. Caring for all the Covid positive cases in the country in hospitals, or places designated hospitals. This means the suffering of PPE outfits, in which you sweat, and which make even going for a pee a major operation, as well as the ongoing anxiety of catching and spreading the illness. These staff are also depriving their colleagues where they usually work of their contribution to the work-load. Being in ENT also means that all the usual Ear Nose and Throat staff and all their patients are “squatters” at Candos Hospital, thus causing crowding in parts of Candos.
3. Caring for those amongst the Covid positive cases that do have symptoms, and will include some very sick people, and the heavy burden of caring for the dying and the dead.
4. Staffing all the vaccine centres, to vaccinate a million adults. We in the queue feel tired after half a day in that mode. Imagine working in it every day. Again all the staff have been seconded off wards and away from out-patients.
5. Taking care of all the health services that usually operate, but with even worse staff shortages.
So, anyone who says the lockdown is burdensome, we do know it is, but do have a thought for the nursing staff. In addition to them and their families living in lockdown, they are caring for us all.
Let’s make it a time, when we think how to make public health (in the sense of preventive health) really fantastic for the future, as well as ensuring universal health care as a continued, improving reality, equal for all of us.