Assad Bhuglah, ex-directeur du service responsable du commerce international au ministère des Affaires étrangères, que nous avons interrogé cette semaine nous parle de l’effet du confinement sur la vie de tous les jours des Mauriciens et des leçons à tirer de la crise actuelle qui nous frappe de plein fouet. Nous publions ses propos en anglais afin de rester fidèles à sa pensée.
How does the current cri- sis challenge you ?
This Coronavirus has completely turned our life upside down. The confinement, the social distancing and the traumatising effect of fear will have an ever-lasting effect on our way of living. Life will never be the same again in the post-Coronavirus phase. Henceforth, people will not be only health-conscious but will become more and more health-exigent. In their daily socialisation, people will have a tendency to maintain physical distancing, be it at school, office or workplace. Persons suspected of showing signs of sickness would have a feeling of being treated as outcast. People will be very cautious to expose themselves to crowded places like shopping malls, markets, racecourse and discos. They will be very selective in choice of restaurants, bakeries and food outlets, paying more attention to whether health and sanitary standards are being observed. Even in the design of their homes, people will now think of making space for an isolation room in case of health emergencies. For those who are techno-savvy, online shopping and home delivery will become a style of life in order to avoid risk of exposure to crowd
What are the lessons that can be learned?
The confinement has taught us some hard lessons. At a time when big supermarkets and bakeries remained closed, many people have managed to get some relief from the corner shops and vegetable sellers in the vicinity through their backdoor counters; customers would be inclined to maintain the personal contacts with small retailers for future pre- cautions. Some people have also realised the importance of home garden, manioc, maize, the jack-fruit and banana trees in their backyard as means of resilience. The Corona crisis has also revealed some cracks and imbalances in our society. The issue of health, which has so far been taken for granted, will be in the forefront of governance agenda both at national and international level. During the lock-down phase when almost all the citizens of all hierarchy are confined to their homes for their own safety, it is the doctors, nurses, paramedics, cleaners, drivers have been on the front-line to combat the invisible enemy. In the post-Corona phase, the trade unions will surely lobby to get these jobs revalorized. It needs to be said, entre parenthèses, the contribution of many Bangladeshi workers behind the scene helping NGOs and supermarkets to pack foods during the lock-down.
And when it comes to the economy?
The confinement has brought to surface the vulnerability of the informal sector and the critical importance of the domestic industry involved in the production of vital commodities needed during emergency situation. The informal sector has so far stood on its own and provides critical economic opportunities for the poor. Most of them are self-employed and sustain themselves on day-to- day earning. Integrating the informal into the formal sector will an important policy challenge to address because the informal actors would not like to be demotivated or harassed by layers of strict regulations, red tape bureaucracy and com- plicated reporting to MRA with spectre of taxes looming on their meagre income. However, if the informal sector is not given some oxygen, it will have rippling effect on the poverty line. On the other hand, in the formal sector, our domestic manufacturers also need to be supported during this crisis period, not only to make them face competition on regional and international front but to be able to maintain the regularity of supply of vital commodities for local population in time crisis, such as cooking oil, butter, soap, detergents, sanitizers, tissue papers, pasta and wheat flour. Imagine the scenario if there is short of supply and ships do not come to our harbours! We need to build their resilience and must not see a situation where they close their doors. Despite the fact that we have tariff commitments to the WTO, SADC and COMESA, the present health emergency situation allows us to evoke the GATT’s General Exception Clause to give a lifeline to our domestic industries. Other countries are already doing it to protect jobs and industries.
How to review our economic strategy?
When the Coronavirus started scourging Wuhan at the outset of this year, many local industries and business firms, which rely heavily source their materials from China, thought that they could overcome the problem by diversifying their source of supply elsewhere. Very soon, they got disillusioned because the virus became pandemic and disarrayed other markets. The global supply chain has been disrupted. We need to revisit both our export and import strategy. The big international companies will have tendency to slow down their outsourcing activities and relocate their operations nearer their home jurisdiction so as to avoid disruption in supplies in future lockdowns. This will create redundancies and job losses across the globe. The biggest casualties will be suffered by the travel and tourism industry as many people, especially the older persons who constitute a big chunk of tourism, will be hesitant to travel. The business of cruising ships will be badly affected because cruise passengers endured several weeks of nightmares during the time of virus spread.
The Corona virus has created a big convulsion and this crisis will put the world on a different axis. The decisions that the people and governments will be going to take in the coming months will re-shape the future world — not just in the fields of the healthcare systems but also the economy, politics and culture.
Do you think we should have used our skills from abroad?
The country is at war with an invisible enemy. At a time when all the countries around the world are mobilising all the resources to ramp up against this virus, it is imperative for Mauritius to engage a national move to invite all our experts to join hands together whether they live in Mauritius or abroad. Time is of essence and the virus is not giving respite.
Dr Sumayyah Hosany, the Mauritian doctor together with her husband, braved to stay in Wuhan the epicentre of Verona, to help combat the disease. With practical experience on ground, she is prepared to come with a team from her hospital together with equipment to help Mauritius. Dick Ng Sui Wa and others set on task to facilitate the coming of the team. At the last hour she is told that the Chinese borders are closed and she cannot travel. Given that China is already des- patching its medical team to several countries, the question is has the Mauritian government officially approached the Chinese government to ask for this team to come? The PM has announced that a special flight of Air Mauritius going to China to take delivery of equipment and kits. Is there a possibility that Dr Sumayyah and her team can travel on this plane?