Last time around – I mean in the first lockdown – there wasn’t a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. No vaccine was in sight yet. All we had to contain the spread of the virus, which we did for nine whole months, were a severe 72-day lockdown and then strict distance-keeping, mask-wearing, hands-washing. All this only worked so long as the borders were tightly sealed – however much the tourism bosses put pressure, complained, wrote editorials, nagged, passed resolutions in mass marches, and climbed on to rooftops to shout to break the seal – simply because almost all the other countries Mauritius has close contact with in the world were overwhelmed by cases: countries as different as South Africa, India, France including its colony Reunion, and the UK.
And tight as the seal was, it was not tight enough. One little breach, alongside our slackening up over nine months and wearing our masks around our chins and going to a religious gatherings or simply to work or to school, or risking the odd kiss on the cheek or hug – and now, here we are, a new 142 positive cases of Covid, one week into the second lockdown. Seven new positive tests overnight. Four clusters now, with the Malherbes one adding to those in Wootton, Forest-Side and Curepipe. All the clusters are still contained within the “Red Zone” of combined Constituencies Number 15, 16 and 17.
Anyway, the vaccination program, when it began in February was, unexpectedly, a bit of a flop. It was offered first only to front-liners like hospital staff and police officers, and take-up was disappointing, this class being somewhat more susceptible to Francophone conspiracy theories against vaccines. As of mid-January, while in the UK, 71.3% of people said they intend to get vaccinated, in France, it was only 29.8%. Anyway, this hesitancy in Mauritius instantly “dissolved into thin air”, when the Government opened up five or six centres at the beginning of March, just before the first breach of the sanitary cordon, for the broad masses of pensioners and people with “pre-existing conditions” like diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure. The broad masses of Mauritians know for sure that vaccines, in these times, are to be snapped up.
Then, Government, perhaps not realizing the massive shift in “public opinion” that this was, went and made the mistake of opening up the hospitals to everyone over 18, as from 8 March, and there was a mad rush, a huge crush that day and the next. (It could have been disastrous spreader event for Covid, coinciding as it did with the first new clusters of the second wave.) To give an idea of the rush, we have a friend who was number 782 in a queue. Beat that! Anyway on the evening of 9 March, a severe lockdown was imposed and the vaccination program as a whole had to be put on pause.
And yesterday, a week later, it has re-started anew. This time, it is during a lockdown. The way Vice Prime Minister Obeegadoo announced it was that, to get all essential services up and running, all the front-liners would be vaccinated first, in 14 newly designated sites, plus some area health centres, as well as the much-criticized inclusion of eight designated private clinics that will do vaccinations. So, the onus was put on the bosses – both private sector and public sector heads of department – to book reservations and get working people taken to the sites in buses. The authorities announce that 7,000 people got their first shot of AstraZeneca yesterday, which is good. That makes 57,000 people already “half-vaccinated”, thus after three weeks each getting some good protection from the severe forms of the illness. And the campaign continues. A cashier at Winners in Cascavelle – yes, yesterday was my shopping day by alphabet – says they are going to Plaza for their vaccines today. So, that seems to be working.
But here’s another case (after yesterday’s blog) of Murphy’s Law for you – if something can go wrong it will go wrong. This tenuous step in the right direction coincides with some countries pressing the PAUSE button on the AstraZeneca vaccine that is being used here. Their suspension is because of a few cases of blood clots following vaccination. However, neither the WHO nor the EU are convinced that there is any proof of a causal link. Remember that there are, so far, not a higher percentage of cases of blood-clotting in those who have taken the vaccine than there are, business-as-usual, in the rest of the population. In fact, there seem to be fewer. Blood clots are common causes of illness, especially amongst older people. And note that, because the Pfizer vaccines, for example, require minus 60 degrees storage temperatures, they are transported to big sites that people have to go and stand in queues at. The vaccine distribution is thus unsuitable for all the frail, older people in Europe, who live in small groups of, say, 40-50 in a nursing home in a quiet area. So, they – the most likely to have blood clots – are given the British competitor producer’s vaccine, AstraZenica because it does not need this dry ice storage. The competitive advantage that AstraZeneca has (its easier storage) can be expected to provoke criticism, especially under the competitive rules of the profit motive. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine can be expected to suffer delays and criticism fuelled by competitors, too. Not only does it not require the super-cold storage, but it has the massive advantage of being single-dose.
All this to say, we again call on the Mauritian Government to support the move by the Indian and South African governments to make all intellectual patents on all Covid vaccines common property to all of humanity. We cannot risk having competitors running campaigns against each other, via Governments, based on the profit motive, and then further fuelling the ridiculous anti-vax conspiracy theories on social media. We need the science to be the deciding factor. And, just as epidemiology is the science of probability, so looking at risk factors in a new vaccine is the science of numbers linked to the Aristotelian logic of cause-and-effect i.e. what happens after something else happens is not necessarily caused by it. Tomorrow if this goes on, I’ll tell you a story of Mr. Juste.
In any case, in LALIT, we remind people that vaccines are not just about “the over-important me, me, me”. It’s about us, all of us. All of us in the country, and all of us in the world. Vaccines, like social distancing and hand-washing and masks, are about helping the whole of society. And in particular, they help us all by sparing the health workers the brunt of the epidemic. We actually get and keep the whole of our complex society – its economy, its flesh-and-bone social networks of all kinds, its production and distribution, its caring and its education, its arts and crafts, its holding hands and kissing, its sports and its fun, its love and its sexual relationships, its parties and its dancing and singing, its messing about at the beach, its laughing loudly and playing in a band, its highjinks and its serious activities – going. So, go get vaccinated as soon as it is your turn. I have. Ram has. Kisna, Rajni, Alain, Rada, Sadna, Anne-Marie all have, to name just a few of our leadership. Others in Lalit are eager to get the vaccine, but haven’t had the chance yet. Even for each individual “me”, the chances of dying of Covid are much higher than the chances of an adverse effect from the vaccine: remember 10 people have died here in a population of 1.3 million. The AstraZenica vaccine has been given to literally some one hundred million people.
Anyway, it’s not just us saying so. The WHO has specifically urged countries not to pause the AstraZeneca vaccinations.
So, aim towards the light at the end of the tunnel, the vaccine.
And meanwhile, keep social distance, stay safe, and nurture constant contact with friends by phone and neighbours over the fence and across the road.
I’m off to go finish brush-cutting the lawn. The rain has made the lerb burik go berserk. Once long ago, I called our lawn a lawn to my brother who was, for many years, an Air Mauritius pilot, and he replied, “What d’you mean a lawn? That bit of veld at the back of your house?” So, since it has not improved much, I should say I’m going to finish brush-cutting that bit of veld at the back our house.