KRISH PONNUSAMY, CSK

Nobody knows how the drama will unfold. The facts and figures on Covid-19 are changing everyday. The pandemic is causing havoc on its way in almost all countries. All the continents have been assailed by Covid-19, except Antarctica.

The daily life of millions has been deeply affected. First, the schools have been closed, then the offices, entertainment places, shops, restaurants, bars, religious places, airports and a long list of workplaces. Suddenly, the population has become very familiar with terms like Covid-19, lockdown, quarantine, confinement, sanitary curfew and social distance.

The spread of Covid-19 is stunning and has enveloped the entire planet in a matter of a few weeks. The speed of contagion and the growing number of deaths have forced governments to declare a state of war against the invisible enemy. Borders have been sealed off. The army has been deployed all over. Heads of State/Government have addressed their respective population to warn them against the enemy and to announce a whole gamut of emergency measures to fight the deadly virus. It is an unprecedented chapter in the history of mankind where we are in a war situation in a time of peace.

When the world was afflicted by the Spanish flu about a century ago and when all the countries suffered from the calamities of the first and second world wars there were no such organisations like the UN and WHO.

Today we are fortunate that the WHO is playing a key coordinating role in the fight against the virus and the search of appropriate drugs. WHO has issued guidelines to all nations with the result that an international campaign has been put up to raise the awareness of one and all to the characteristics of Covid-19 and to the basic principles of hygiene, e.g. the need to properly wash the hands regularly. It is mandatory for each country to relay to WHO reliable statistics on the status of Covid-19 on a daily basis. The data is compiled by WHO and published for the sharing of information at planetary level.

Common measures are in force in all countries. In line with the WHO guidelines, the Prime Minister of Mauritius announced a series of decisions to ensure the availability of inter alia foodstuffs, pharmaceutical products, the provision of quarantine, public health safety and public security facilities, the safe return of our citizens from abroad and the closing of our airport. With the death of two persons from Covid-19 and the increasing number of patients tested positive in Mauritius, more stringent measures have been announced by the Prime Minister, namely the strict application of the confinement rules for 14 days, introduction of a curfew under the Public Health Act and a better control at the supermarkets. He has already warned of drastic measures if the confinement period is not strictly adhered to. We find the same scenario in most countries.

While every effort is being made to contain the virus, renowned medical laboratories are speeding up their search for a vaccine. WHO, which is coordinating the findings, does not expect the vaccine to be on the market before several months.

In the meantime, the world economy is being shattered by unimaginable proportions. Governments are desperate for timely solutions. They are forced to decide urgently in the light of the rapidly evolving situation. Some of the decisions lack rationality and at times Ministers contradict each other publicly quite innocently. Recently, the BBC showed a number of such contradictory statements to its viewers. The CNN did the same exercise in respect of President Trump’s numerous incorrect statements on Covid-19. No doubt the viewers are confused about government intentions and act according to their own understanding. This is a recipe for frustration leading to non cooperation. Therefore, effective communication is of essence. This applies to all governments, including ours.

As time goes by, Mauritius will be confronted with teething problems affecting all sectors of the economy. Each sector is looking to Government for financial help. A relief package is already on the table. Government will be hard-pressed to support all sectors, including the informal sector for a longer period if the economy is not back on track.

Governments all over the world are judged by the way they handle the crisis and its sequel. While some leaders have been praised, others have been sharply criticized. I will not mention names, but I realize that this is a testing time for government leaders. Some who are surrounded by a multidisciplinary team of high calibre and involve Opposition and other opinion leaders in their consultation process for a broader consensus on vital issues are likely to succeed. Those who think they know it all and can manage without listening to the views of others may have a hard price to pay.

The Prime Minister of Mauritius is no exception. He too will be judged on his performance during the crisis and the aftermath. Multiple problems crop up unexpectedly from different quarters. The quality of his decisions and their successful implementation are crucial. He will have to display exceptional leadership qualities in the eyes of the entire population.

I have spent more than 40 years in the Public Service and have witnessed all sorts of situations affecting the government and the country, but the present crisis cannot be compared to any. To cope with it, I believe that the country needs an enlightened leadership. The Prime Minister is a hard worker and tries to do his best, but he will be well advised to consult with the other political leaders who are all seasoned politicians who have previously held very high office. He should share notes with them on important issues on the prevailing crisis. The Prime Minister must create space for the Opposition parties to meet with the Executive and allow for a frank exchange of views which hopefully can lead to a wide consensus. He will be wise enough to agree that this will in no way compromise his powers and prerogatives as Prime Minister. The Opposition leaders should be by his side when he addresses the nation and be invited to speak. The show of unity and solidarity in these difficult times will have a beneficial effect on the population which will be more inclined to accept the tough, but necessary measures to get us out of the Covid-19 crisis. Voluntary compliance of the population with those measures will keep away all forms of social unrest and ease the strain on the Police Force. The spirit of greater unity, solidarity and cooperation will, I am sure, boost the morale of our nation.

The Prime Minister should be prepared to move up gear and extend the boundaries of government. Will he reflect on this and show us his mettle?