Congratulations on saving the country from Covid-19. Mauritius must surely rate in the top tier of countries like Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore in the speed with which we have contained the virus. However, unlike those countries, you achieved this by making us prisoners in our own homes. You have also turned Mauritius into an island prison. Nobody can get in and nobody can get out. When you are sure there are no more cases in the country you can unlock our cell doors but dare you open the prison gates?
You are faced with a dreadful dilemma. If you open up the prison and let visitors back in then you risk importing the virus and having to put the country into lock-down again. If you keep visitors out then you will preside over the death of not only Air Mauritius, but most of the tourist sector. On top of that, our foreign currency reserves will dwindle month by month until we can no longer afford to import food, fuel and medical supplies.
What are you going to do? Blame the virus? To be fair to Covid-19, it is not such a deadly disease as the WHO would have us believe. Countries like Germany and Iceland, that have done enough random testing of their populations, have found that only about 0.3-0.4% of infected individuals actually die of the disease. That’s not too much more than annual influenza. So if more than 99.5% of people could survive an infection what is the problem?
Until effective treatments are proven and available, we rely on our immune systems to defeat the virus. The longer this takes, the more the virus spreads through the body and the more sick a person becomes. Oxygen and, in extreme cases, mechanical ventilators may be required to buy us the extra days needed for our bodies to win the fight. If they don’t, then we die. So the greatest threat any country faces is not the infected fatality rate of the virus, it is the inadequacy of its healthcare.
Italy, Spain, France and the UK have all struggled to prevent the Covid-19 from overwhelming their healthcare systems. Mauritians are right to be afraid because our own national health service is far inferior to theirs. Isn’t that to be expected, after all European countries are much richer than we are? Not at all. The quality of a nation’s healthcare is the choice of its politicians. Take Cuba for example, a country, poorer than Mauritius, that sends its medical professionals around the world to help other countries fight epidemics.
A lack of investment in public hospitals and health centres and the encouragement of private clinics has created a two tier healthcare system that is a disaster for the poor and mediocre at best for the rich. Contrast this with Thailand, another country poorer than Mauritius, that only introduced universal healthcare in 2001 but is now ranked 47th best in the world by WHO, 37 places higher than Mauritius. In terms of medical tourism, it is the joint third biggest destination by revenue.
The Prime Minister of the UK needed intensive care to keep him alive when his body was struggling to overcome Covid-19. He used the UK’s NHS and it cost him nothing. Indeed it would have been unthinkable for him to go to a private hospital. Pravind, can you imagine obtaining any treatment from a public hospital in Mauritius? You are party to the destruction of our free healthcare system. Can there be a more stupid healthcare measure than subsidising public employees’ private medical insurance? Where else in the world are public nurses paid to get treatment in private hospitals? It is the perfect policy to make the rich richer and the poor sicker.
Learn the lesson from the Covid-19 crisis. Make improving Mauritius’ national health service your priority. You will know that you have achieved success when you, like Boris Johnson, leave a public hospital grateful and proud of the care you have received.
Imagine this: state of the art facilities where everyone gets exactly the same care whether you are rich or poor, but you can pay extra if you want a private room or gourmet food. It’s a simple model that integrates hospitals with hospitality. Medical tourists could stay in hotel at the hospital to receive their treatment and move to a hotel at the beach to rest and recuperate. They would be subsidising world-class treatment for all of us.
Start now. Stimulate the building sector by constructing new hospitals and patient accommodation. Train out-of-work hotel staff to care for the patients as well as tourists. The Thai Prime Minister asked the wealthy elite to contribute to the Covid-19 crisis and many did by donating medical equipment. Surely ours could do the same?
Do this and you will be able to open the prison gates with confidence, knowing that our health system can cope if the virus returns. Tourists will have the security that Mauritian healthcare is at least as good as they have at home. And we will be prepared for future pandemics that now seem all but inevitable.