Government is at a crossroads, worst caught between Covid-19 and the unravelling of the economy (and its deep social implication for the immediate future maintenance of law and order). Government must choose whether to again renew lockdown or give it a break – and bear political responsibility for whatever happens. Arguably, this is a catch-22 situation, but the decision that ensues will decide the fate of the country, and ultimately that of the government itself.
The objective reality is that while Covid-19 continues to constitute a lethal threat, the day to day unravelling of the economy, and its consequential social miseries, may take a dimension that is far more calamitous than any standing sanitary remedy. Some western countries, like the Netherlands, seem to have given up the idea of a frontal battle against Covid-19, and are adopting a covert herd immunization approach despite the politically correct discourse of an undaunting crusade against the pandemic. Semi lockdown and flexible measures are in place to keep the social space breathing, without choking the economy.
Mauritius, according to the Government spokesperson, Dr Zouberr Joomaye, has officially adopted a Chinese style type of lockout to combat Covid-19. Manifestly, this is not working to satisfaction. China is a superpower, its central planning apparatus is geared to face such black swan scenarios, its production and supply chains are time tested. Even more, they are enabled by e-commerce, digital money transfer and home delivery being a normal currency. And enforcement of law and order is no joke. In contrast, both capacity and capability are lacking in Mauritius. Besides, Mauritians are well known for their legendary nonchalance and indiscipline, a pleonasm for anticivic behaviour. Except for the disabled, some even believe the world owes them a living.
This said, here are three unconventional truths: -
(1) The official stats put the figures of those contaminated by the virus at 268 and 7 deaths. If we go by the WHO (World Health Organization) standards, the average rate of death is 3.5 per 100 identified contaminated cases, which reflects more or less the local figures. However, if we take other expert figures who project also unidentified asymptomatic cases, the rate of death could be only 1 per 100 cases. Within this scenario, there could be hypothetically almost 700 roaming or secluded cases around. So, we are bound to discover more and more cases. But paradoxically, while this could sound alarming, it should not constitute an agonizing concern for reason explained below.
(2) For all the spin, admittedly to scare the population into disciplined lockdown and sanitary security, the reality as exposed by Dr Sunil Guness and Dr Catherine Gaud, based after all on WHO research, is not that desperate: 80 to 85% of those who catch Covid-19 may not even be aware of its presence as their antibodies fight back the virus to extinction, 15% may take classical anti-flu medication such as Paracetamol, only 5% need hospitalization of which 1% may need intensive care.
Arguably, deaths and suffering are no mere statistics, but trade-offs are a regular feature of everyday life. Based on previous pandemics data, Dr Sunil Guness has argued that if 60% of the population is immunized, the battle will be won against the virus. Pending a vaccine that would help to face its seasonal occurrences as with flu, which is ten times less lethal, as per epidemiologists.
(3) Under sudden lockout, the country has come to “discover” that the vulnerable social categories are more multifarious than accounted, ranging from the bricklayer to the small planter, in between street hawkers and other self-employed. Those living from hand to mouth are vying both for revenue and food. There is a far cry from the living conditions of the privileged class, the relatively well-off (disclosure: I am one of them) and the fat cats. The latter with guaranteed income, a fridge filled with foodstuff, are ready to sustain a complete lockout for weeks. What about the former?
The story so far: Under lockdown conditions, Government has come to the rescue of the most vulnerable groups with a whole set of measures, including free distribution of food and revenue support. Also, the wage support scheme has given the formal sector a lifeline to relatively guarantee job maintenance in the short run. But questions arise: how long can this volatile situation last? How many more billions the government can afford to sustain lockout? How far can a standstill position continue to resist the dynamics of the economy without risking social entropy – after all not unlike the biology of Covid-19, the socio-economic structure is also a macro-organism, propelled by its own motion. For all we know, the human mind just can’t bend the laws of nature.
Reality check: despite warnings from officialdom, those living from hand to mouth are daring security measures and security forces; robbery and violent acts are escalating around the country; self-employed are crying their desperation. Small entrepreneurs are petitioning the powers that be across the web while medium firms, appalled by the usual apathy and barrenness of institutional representation, are fending for themselves.
Amidst the pandemonium, some politicians are out displaying their usual demagoguery and deceitful propositions. Orthodox measures wouldn’t work in such unorthodox crisis. To paraphrase an Art of War parable, you can’t just keep them happy by constantly giving honey, only to discover later on that the patient was a diabetic. The country is running out of time before its descent into social chaos. However painful, there are trade-offs to be made. Now is the time for bold decisions and actions.
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