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Second Lockdown – DAY THREE – Exponential Spread


If yesterday was a day that began with a feeling of anxiety, then today has us waking up to barely suppressed panic. For me the panic is not personal so much as societal. I live in fear of a collapse in the health services, should too many of us fall sick at the same time. Like what is happening in Brazil. And the particular suffering for those who have the misfortune to fall ill. So, we have to stare fear in the face and overcome it. We have to stay home, even if we long to roam. We must keep conversation up with neighbours – over the fence, across the road, from the rooftop – when you go to check if water is getting to your tank, while neighbours tend their plants in pots on their roofs like Geeta, or hang their washing like Parvedee, or sweep leaves from their roof like Guy.

Anyway, we woke up to a total of 99 locally transmitted cases. 

On 5 March the first case was picked up. Seven days later 1 = 99, so to speak. Exponential numbers are scary. We avoid taking them to their logical conclusion. And this refusal – I mean all of us in the general public – to do the multiplication as it spins out of control, is what makes us so maddening to epidemiologists, who are creatures of the exponential. This is why we, quite rightly, got called Coco-vid.

In addition, we don’t know if there are more than one “patient zero”. How many breaches in the quarantine barriers were there? So many people with the virus have no symptoms. This makes the epidemic, counter-intuitively, all the worse. And then, did the virus get into the Mahashivratri crowds as they began? And into 40-er lent buses visiting churches? And then get spread geographically, and not yet seen? And into what family parties did it find its way? What other work sites? And now, when Constituencies Number 15, 16 and 17 are barricaded military-fashion in by the Special Mobile Force since midnight, is it a case of the Authorities closing the stable door after the horses have bolted? We can only wait. Only a tiny percentage of us will, after two weeks, have some protection after that first vaccine jab. 

Even worse: If, and I say if, and I’m not repeating the France 24 mis-information, it is one of the variants that quicken up the spread, even without being more fatal:

If you have 1 death per month from Covid, God forbid, from the original strain of the virus, and then you get a mutant that is 1.5 times more infectious, God forbid, the next month you have 11.4 deaths. Not just 1. The next month 129 instead of the 1, and then the next month 1,630 instead of the 1 – assuming you did not have a lockdown. And however much we all repeat “God forbid”. So, there is one more source of concern spelt out. 

So, this morning there was no more joking about, “Goody, it’s a public holiday again today!” Independence Day is being celebrated glumly, which, to be honest, it often is. Somehow, Independence has not yet got past the left-over suppressed feelings of two past, related tragedies. The race-riots in Port Louis triggered by the anti-Independence political current and carried out by a few gangs. And the cruel displacement of the Chagossians by the UK-USA so they could steal Chagos and set up their military base on Diego Garcia. The Chagossians dumped on the dockside in Port Louis then ended up often living in houses vacated in haste by people having fled the race-riots. This way the past is in the present. This way feelings, even suppressed, come back to haunt us on Independence Day.

So, let’s face all the facts, and see what we can do about it. First, we need to tighten up all public health rules – no crowds, keep a good distance from others, wear a mask or two all the time we are out, and wash our hands well with soap often. Second, stay completely away from people outside your household maximum possible, while keeping up shouting contact over fences and telephone contact. Third, prepare for the resumption of the vaccination process – we can expect the AstraZeneca vaccination to continue in Mauritius – the European union and the UK are still recommending to continue with it despite a scare in some European countries. We will also, we believe, have Sputnik vaccine and the UN Covax. 

The vaccination campaign is showing up its weakness as it rolls out. The Health Ministry, for reasons unexplained, has not used the usual Social Security roll-out for flu vaccines. This roll-out is now tried and tested over the years. Why did the Health Ministry not just train up a few of this existing staff? Instead, the Government has done the morally reprehensible thing of training up the staff of 8 private clinics. This means Jugnauth is telling us that if we have money, we don’t have to queue. And he is giving the country’s supply of vaccines (free?) to the clinics to do business with? Would to sell it be worse still? At the same time, this private medicine  filière then acts like a free advertising campaign to recruit new clients to the commercialized health care sector (the blackmail economy of health), a sector which is always battling to get patients, so long as the hospitals and dispensaries are doing their work well. In a way, this turn of events is not surprising because Jugnauth’s main spokesman, Dr. Zouberr Joomye, as well as being a kandida bati at the last elections, is a private clinic owner and thus has a vested interest in the private health care sector.  The worse the dispensaries and hospitals do, the better for the private clinic sector.

So, what do we call for:

1. Government should use the existing Social Security roll-out instead of the private clinics. This in addition to the Health Ministry facilities.

2. Government should call in Dr. Gujadhur again as advisor on contact-tracing. He, Dr. Musango of the WHO and Dr. Catherine Gaud were a successful trio during the first wave of the epidemic – so why not replicate the trio. The work is a highly technical, and deeply humane, as a job. You have to have the science to know whether to urgently trace forwards first (who the patient who has tested positive has seen since he was infected) or backwards first (who he saw before he tested positive) and statistically which contacts are more relevant, for example, to identify and trace a “super-spreader” event. You also have to have the art of helping someone recall all the people they have met, and even then coaxing them to be truthful about contacts that may be “secret” or a source of social shame to the person concerned. It is thus a rare combination of the science of statistics, and the art of knowing what different kinds of Mauritian people respond positively in different ways – by class, by sex, by age, by town or country, by religion – and offer up all their social contacts. 

3. The Health Ministry must re-introduce the two measures removed from quarantine rules i.e. a Health Ministry officer must be in charge of quarantine operations in hotels, and the 7 additional days for anyone in a batch of people where one tests positive in the original 14 days’ quarantine. 

Hope tomorrow brings a lighter, maybe even wittier, blog. In the short term, it depends on how much spread there already was over the past fortnight, and especially over the past week.

It depends in the medium term, at least to some extent, on us all and how we behave for the next 10 days or so. It also depends on the Government not messing up the Vaccination Campaign by depending on the private sector.

Lindsey Collen