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Blog 13 – A Grave Health Crisis Still Upon Us

12.12.2021

We in LALIT are among those who recognize that the people of Mauritius managed the first Covid wave – from March 2020 until the end of August 2021 – extremely well. Certainly we did better than most countries we have links with – not counting, say, New Zealand, Australia, and China. And in LALIT, we say this although we are not nationalists. But we, as a people, contained the epidemic here for 17 whole months of the pandemic.


From March to December 2020 there were a grand total of 10 deaths. From January to mid-August, there were another 12 deaths. In all: 22. 


Even by the end of August, the total deaths were 34 – still low, but the warning was there in that last fortnight of August. The rate of increase began to be exponential. From this moment onwards, Mauritius entered a dangerous phase. It is urgent to realize this. Deaths on 10 December, 10 weeks later, have risen to 680 (WHO figures). It is alarming. The Government panicked at one point and on 10 November closed schools and universities altogether, and reduced gatherings from 100 to 50. But, it was not enough to match the speed of transmission of the Delta variant.


Mauritius is in a severe health crisis now. Hospital staff are in difficulty. Many are sick and some are dying. All are over-worked.


Meanwhile, even during the first wave of Covid, when the people and the health care services were containing the epidemic, when everyone was under severe lockdown, there were fraudulent tenders being awarded by the MSM-led government. This has since resulted in arrests and charges. Mafias over the award of tenders have begun to be exposed, especially in the court cases around the late MSM agent Kistnen in Constituency number 8. Vital equipment like ventilators and masks were purchased at ridiculously high prices and some not ever delivered as ordered. This points not just to nepotism, not just to favouring one company over another, but to outright theft of public funds. It is worse than the MSM’s usual “affairisme”. 


Now, during the second wave of Covid, the bad one, by Friday, the Health Minister was standing up in the National Assembly, flaying his arms around with a scrap of paper he had been passed as a crib-sheet, describing how some company made Rs70 million a week ago from importing a million doses of Covid treatment after submitting an unsolicited bid for Covid medicines at over 10 times the price charged by another company that had won the formal tender the day before. Instead of Rs9.30 per pill, the unsolicited bid got Rs79.92. Millions were due to be pocketed by someone. The Minister was unable to explain. The Speaker ordered two Opposition MPs out instead. Later the Minister made a Statement to the House attempting unsuccessfully to explain further.


So, while we agree that, during a pandemic we should all remain focused on controlling what is a truly dangerous infectious disease and, in general, not be side-tracked on to issues of corruption to the detriment of caring for the health and even life of the whole of society, it is nevertheless outrageous that, at moments of a health crisis, the Health Minister pretends to fail to see that there is this kind of literal hijacking of public funds going on. Today we learn that the Finance Minister has blocked the payment of this sum of Rs79 million, although the pills have, it seems, been delivered, and are being prescribed in Government hospitals and flu clinics. 


Usually, putting all one’s energy into attacking health authorities, the very institutions in charge of health care, on a subject like corruption, while people are suffering and dying during a pandemic, is akin to those who turn up at the site of an accident and instead of looking after the injured, squabble over who was “an-tor”. But the people in charge of health supplies procurement, themselves, are now acting more like those lawyers who turn up on the scene of an accident to look for future clients they can make money from. We already have enough lawyers like this during this particular epidemic. 


Demands


We support the Opposition demand for a Commission of Enquiry on this latest procurement. But, there are other more democratic demands needed, too. Why does the Opposition not put forward more long-lasting demands? There is a need for Government to institute a “fixed mark-up limit” at once on all public procurement for health supplies. In fact, there ought to be a fixed mark-up on all pharmaceutical supplies, sold to the public or to Government, in any case. This is LALIT’s immediate demand. We also need a Select Committee to look into all emergency procurements over the course of the epidemic so as to situate the blame and so as to remedy the structural flaws that allow this to happen. That is a second LALIT demand. We need, in the long run, for Government to order its own supplies direct, with a permanent Parliamentary Committee to monitor the executive as it does this. That is a third LALIT demand, which flows from our existing program for more democracy.


Remember the truth in order to take our responsibility for the epidemic


But, we must, at the same time, remember that, as a people, we did have that original success in not just controlling, but actually containing, the epidemic. It is important to remember this constantly. We need to repeat it again and again. Because it is true. We need to force all those diaspora “internautes”, for example, and all those other deniers of this national success, to recognize it, and to stop creating some “fake reality” that supposedly all along the epidemic has been catastrophically handled. It is as though they had built up an initial fake reality of an “eleksyon kokin”, itself a campaign of lies based on lies, and thus when they denied the MSM-led Government’s electoral legitimacy, they went and included not just the illegitimacy of the then respected Electoral Commission but even the illegitimacy of the Health Services during an epidemic. All this campaign was led largely by a very organized diaspora. Their feet not being on the ground allowed them to live in a bubble of fake news. No-one yet knows who orchestrated the massive diaspora “ralliement” just after the elections for about a year – and on-going – nor who could have had those kinds of resources at their disposal. But, one can hazard the odd guess.


Please can everyone help to let this be known: the Mauritian people held Covid at bay successfully for nearly 18 months. It is important because, for the past three months after that, since the beginning of September, this has drastically changed. It is no longer so. Now we are in a health emergency. We need to “resezi” right now. We need to act so as to control the epidemic. For this, we need to know the truth. The Government has to give us full information every week, with the trends all made clear in the figures it gives.


We attribute “our success” as a people for a year-and-a-half to two main factors. Firstly, there is the tradition of public health that  is very advanced because of a history of malaria eradication and chikungunya control, as well as the embracing of vaccination, and also benefitting from a relative freedom from the extreme right conspirationists so numerous in France and the USA, or from the “wellness” natural medicine current, both of which currents were marginal here before the pandemic, and have fortunately remained marginal, despite clearly having an active little lobby in the Press. Secondly, we were well-guided by the honesty and coherence of the strategy of the three medical doctors, who led us, the people, through the first wave, in the name of the Health Ministry: Dr. Gujadhur, Dr. Gaud en Dr. Mosango. The major changes are that people now suffer from some pandemic fatigue and that the Government has made us now, at this crucial moment, rely upon only the Health Minister Dr. Jagutpal and his advisor Dr. Joomye, who have, by definition of their roles, to maintain that everything is going well, even after it stopped going well. And the danger is that people have heard so many cries of “wolf” over the first 17 months of the epidemic that, when there is real danger this past 3 months, people no longer listen. 


Since the end of August, for over three months, the numbers of Covid hospital admissions, ICU admissions and deaths have gone up far too high. Admissions are right now still going up further. Here are the figures for admissions and discharges from Regional Hospitals over the past three weeks, the only figure the Government gives daily. But they are an indication:


 Date      Admissions   Discharges 


12 Dec            27                 23


11 Dec            46                 37


10 Dec            57                 32


9 Dec              32                 31


8 Dec              30                 36


7 Dec              50                 21


6 Dec              42                 19      


5 Dec              43                 28


4 Dec              41                 30


3 Dec              38                 39


2 Dec              38                 42


1 Dec              66                 37


30 Nov            57                36


29 Nov            40                17


28 Nov            37                 25


27 Nov            65                 45  


26 Nov            62                 44


25 Nov            47                 43


24 Nov            73                 29


23 Nov            58                 31


22 Nov            54                 37


21 Nov            52                 26


20 Nov            47                 49


TOTAL      1,102                757


We conclude that there are a total of 1,102 admissions and only 757 discharges from Regional Hospitals over that 3-week period, or an increase in number of patients of 345. Hospital staff were already over-stretched. And the tendency is still going upwards.


 This trend – that we glean from the meager statistics now provided by the Health Minister – clearly threatens to overwhelm health services. 


The Prime Minister is making a mistake by putting store on a lower death toll for just one week, while admissions still rise.


And yet, because of “tourism” requiring pretenses, the state has just broadened the existing pretenses. Already we pretended that while everything is luxuriant green, it never rains; that Mauritius is “an island” not a country; that Mauritians are friendly and love tourists, never robbing, let alone attacking any; that there is no police violence in this country of happy, sun-loving islanders. So, now the pretence is that the situation is not “rouge écarlate” when in fact it is – not for tourists from France, but for us in our country. With the result that Government now deprives us of proper statistics. Proper statistics expose trends, and these trends help us to, ourselves, control the epidemic. We know one other serious fact: in the death statistics are grim:


given by the National Committee on Fridays: 


End of 2020                10


By end of August        29


End of September        90


End of October          176


End of November      594


10 December            680


We really have to act urgently so as to bring down the numbers, or flatten the curve – and for this, only the Government can co-ordinate that quickly. And it is not doing so. The Prime Minister has instead announced that the same restrictions, no more, are being extended to mid-January.


The MSM-Led Government is to Blame


So, we blame the MSM-led Government for not controlling the epidemic from September onwards. We blame them for giving in to the pressure of the tourism bosses, who share the blame. But the Government is the first to blame. And, of course, the Government and tourism bosses are not the only ones in society who have a responsibility for how the epidemic unfurls. It is up to all of us. We need to criticize ourselves. 


The opposition political parties, in and out of Parliament, the rest of the organized bourgeoisie other than the main culprits in the tourism sector, the press as an institution, the MBC-TV, and of course all the corps-de-métier like statisticians, journalists, doctors and nurses, we all have a responsibility to take stands and to make coherent, argued demands of the State – for dealing with the coronavirus epidemic – as well as the trade union movement, village councils, all democratic organizations. Democratic organizations all have a responsibility relative to the people. This is our main role. Even profit-driven organizations like the Press and the bosses ultimately have a responsibility to society as a whole, and will be judged this way in the long run.


Lindsey Collen, for LALIT