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2nd Lockdown - Day 47 – Of Books and Zooms and Covid Figures

25.04.2021

A couple weeks after I had mentioned in a blog that I am happily re-reading Kurt Vonnegut novels during the second lockdown (“happily” because his writing is so funny I laugh out aloud), I got an e-mail from a friend in Beau Bassin about the blog – things like an advance order on kefir seeds for after lockdown – and also asking if I knew where he could lay his hands on a copy of Cat’s Cradle, the Vonnegut science fiction novel. 


I was reading that very novel at that very moment.  Or re-reading it. 


Why would I mention this? Just to say that it is a wise man who goes looking for this particular novel today in 2021. I only picked it up by accident to re-read. A novel published in 1963 about the threat of man-made environmental destruction through thoughtless science-and-technology, at the same time as being about the day the atom bomb was dropped on the city of civilians Hiroshima, and set in class reality and colonial reality is indeed clairvoyant. These are still the two main dangers 60 years later – environmental collapse and militarism – and the two main social realities that make undoing the dangers so difficult – class and imperialism. Science fiction, at its most profound. The novel is written in short sentences, short chapters, and is as easy to read as a cartoon strip, which was a wild style, when it first came out. I read it first as early as 1966. That was two years before Vonnegut got famous with Slaughter-House Five, autobiographical novel on surviving the bombing of the city of civilians Dresden by the Allies in WW II. 


It’s Sunday. We know because no-one can go out – unless on special WAPs. There is no odd vehicle up or down Ragoo Lane. Kids play on the road, instead. One just called “Dadi, dadi,” from the middle of the road, “Ala mo la, Dadi”. Neighbours next door have decided to do a massive back-yard clean-up – in good humour. An old lady goes past calling out “Down”, “Down” (it sounds like “Dhow”) and “Lok”, “Lok” in a tuneful Bhojpuri accent, to attract our dogs to the front fencing.


So, all this to say, Sunday is a day for reading, thinking or just mulling, or just doing nothing at all. At a time when today there are higher figures for “daily new Covid cases” world-wide than ever – 897,838 new cases on 23 April. So, we need to keep our stamina up for the long haul.


I think of the CTSP having a Zoom conference to keep workers united and thinking, against all the odds of isolation imposed by the lockdown. And of this trade union’s leaders, who share video-reports on the biggest-ever workers’ strike in world history, the one that took place in India only five months ago – on WhatsApp. And how the CTSP calls on workers to get vaccinated, like the Nurses’ unions do. I think of the LALIT regional meetings on WhatsApp, not just the Rose-Hill- East Regional, but also the Quatre-Bornes-West, and the Curepipe-South. The Port-Louis-North are still preparing. And yesterday was the sixth LALIT Central Committee meeting on Zoom. Where we get reports gathered from all the regions. Wow!


As I say, it is Sunday. But no Sunday papers. Or none we can get our hands on. Yesterday, Week-End came out, as is its lockdown wont, on Saturday. An editorial compared Mauritius’ handling of Covid unfavourable with how Covid is handled in Taiwan. That’s a change. The usual comparison is with France or Reunion.


A LALIT member has today sent me an Excel file of her attempt to monitor Government Covid Statistics, day by day in the second wave (I use the word “attempt” because sometimes the “besafeMoris.mu” site forgets to minus the figures for deaths – so totals don’t corroborate). What I find in the two-page Excel file confirms what two people reported in yesterday’s Central Committee Zoom meeting. One said the Covid new cases figures are down for a week, touch wood. Less new cases is of course the indicator for the next two-to-four weeks of the illness. The low figures are a sign for controlled optimism. Another member said there are so few new cases coming into wards declared “isolation wards” (while demand for the usual hospital facilities rises again) that they are in that difficult inter-regnum in the hospitals, waiting to see whether they will stay “isolation” and working in full PPE, or re-change the whole ward back to what it was. These are such huge, constant shifts in the hospital system, as all the workers deal with the on-going shifts in the epidemic, itself. They do this for us. So, this is cause for optimism for one week even further ahead – the isolation ward is what will find positive case in a week or two. And they are not getting many patients, those deemed “query Covid”, or “doubtful Covid cases”. (By the way, it is this category that people in the Press and mainstream Opposition spread so much confusion about: “Why did they put this Patient-A ‘with’ Covid-positive-Patient-B?,” they howl, strewing panic. The explanation is often simple: Everyone in an isolation ward, is a “maybe” – some will turn out to be positive, most of them, happily, will turn out negative. The minute Patient-B or Patient-A gets a positive test result, and not a minute before, only then do you know that that particular patient is positive for Covid, and you immediately transfer him or her to a Covid Treatment Centre. If you test negative for two or three weeks in the isolation ward, you are deemed to be negative – assuming you are not immune-compromised by a chronic illness or cancer treatment, when it may take longer. But, of course, there may, on day 13, have been, say, Patient-C who, meantime, tested positive. That is where the statisticians (which is what epidemiologists are) come in. They have to bet on figures. And they produce a protocol. “Stay an extra 7 days, and self-isolate,” or whatever. Before the tests, all the patients were the same: “Query Covid” cases, and there is obviously a risk that “negative” patients are in a bed not far from a “positive” – just like when you are in the bus, only the odds against all in there, in an isolation ward, are up.


Here is what the figures in my friend’s Excel table show: In the last 10 days, there have only been four new cases, each on a separate day. In the last 10 days ago, there has been one death. One too many. 


Not being one of those people that measures everything against “France” as the standard, I will, however, measure Mauritius against France for handling of Covid. 


French deaths per million: 1,571. 


Mauritian: deaths per million: 13. 


And for those who compare pathologically with Reunion, deaths per million: 157.


Reunion has some 10 times more deaths than Mauritius, and France, as a whole, 10 times more than its colony, Reunion, per capita.


This is a credit to the people of Reunion and, even more so, to the people of Mauritius. With less resources, Reunyonais have done better, and with less resources still, we have done better. Just to keep the record straight. Certainly not to lower our guard. Keep the masks on, windows open, hands well-washed, and distance clear. 


And it is also a credit to the Government epidemiologists who are seeing us through this wave, as well as to all hospital staff – targeted so cruelly by an often sterile Opposition. We need to protect our health system always, and especially during an epidemic, not attack it.


Lindsey Collen