A journey through the tunnel

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There is a cute local anecdote that goes like this: every time there is a problem with infrastructure, 1.2 million engineers appear on the scene to weigh in on the matter. When there is a legal issue of national concern, 1.2 million constitutional lawyers crawl out of the woodwork. And when there is a problem concerning a teenager, 1.2 million child psychologists offer something like five million opinions about how to solve the problems of the youth.

It is little wonder then that today we have 1.2 million virologists, microbiologists and an equal number of specialised doctors offering expert opinions on the coronavirus. The difference is that this time, we really have become experts. We have had so much time, been so bored out of our wits and have been so concerned about the coronavirus that we have read enough to be able to talk with a lot of authority. 

And in our capacity as newly self-appointed experts, we welcome with relief the re-opening of the food stores and the safety measures introduced. There is no running away from the possibility that the lockdown will be extended even after the extension that has just been announced. Frankly speaking, the first lockdown was more of a poor rehearsal than a real confinement. Our journey through the tunnel starts now. And people have to be able to eat and feed their families.

“Though there is no conclusive evidence yet, Hydroxychloroquine has been cleared for trials in France and may be one possibility. Japan, on the other hand, is using anti-flu drug Avigan to treat patients after reports of promising results in China.”

The safety measures should however in no way lull us into a false sense of security. By no means should anyone think that there is no risk in entering and handling products from a food store or laboutik at this point. Even though some of these measures may slightly decrease the risk of infection while grocery shopping, they are, as we have seen in other countries, not fool proof and the supermarket experience remains a high risk, if not one of the riskiest experiences one can undertake while our friend Covid is roaming free. Donald Schaffner, an expert  in Microbiology and Food Safety, clearly stated, “The biggest risk when it comes to Covid-19 and groceries is being around other people in the grocery store while you are shopping.” It is then up to each one of us to be responsible and weigh up that high risk against the urgency of getting the food items we need. 

While we are having a reprieve, it is now time to work on home deliveries of basic necessities. I know our first experience was a total cock-up, what with some supermarkets more interested in maximising their profit and clearing their stock and some newcomers on the market offering vegetable and fruit baskets at the price of gold. Government has to step in to regulate the supply and the prices and make sure there is no profiteering. Admittedly, not everyone can have their food delivered and we all know the limitations of that. However, the more home deliveries there are, the fewer people will be out there and the lesser the risk for those who have no choice but to physically go to the stores.  

The tunnel is long and winding and most dreadfully does not seem to have an end. However, the light is shimmering bright and clear at the end of it. The torch is carried by the best brains in the world who are putting all their efforts into fighting this Public Enemy Number 1. Surely their work cannot go for naught!

If a vaccine may take time, the world is also holding its breath for a treatment that downgrades Covid-19 from a deadly virus to a little inconvenience. Though there is no conclusive evidence yet, Hydroxychloroquine has been cleared for trials in France and may be one possibility. Japan, on the other hand, is using anti-flu drug Avigan to treat patients after reports of promising results in China. Other countries are working on other drugs. 

Another shred of hope may come from quicker, more affordable and more accessible test kits. Some tests are already being advertised and once they become commonplace, it will be easy to isolate cases and allow the rest of the population out of the tunnel to get on with their lives. 

In the meantime, the reality right now is terrifying: the figures announced by the prime minister on Monday in the middle of an indecent round of applause by his ministers are: 143 confirmed cases already, four dead. As far as preparedness is concerned, we have some 30k test kits for 1.3 million people and less than150 ventilators in the whole of Mauritius. The cases have since increased to 161 with six dead.  

So this is no time to go and look for our favourite cheese or fresh lamb leg. Our choice is either stay in the tunnel or become a statistic announced in the middle of cheers. 

Today is grim. Tomorrow however is likely to come much sooner than expected. We shall see that light. Trust the 1.2 million experts!

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