While the first cases of COVID-19 in the country were confirmed on Wednesday 18 March 2020, Mauritius had already started taking steps to prepare for the pandemic.
Mauritius has started to monitor the situation closely shortly after China first alerted the World Health Organisation (WHO) on 31 December 2019 of an outbreak of a new coronavirus in the city of Wuhan. As part of the response, travel restrictions started being imposed from 23 January 2020. At the time, the country had not yet recorded a single confirmed case of the virus.
In the face of the threat posed by the pandemic, a number of precautionary steps were promptly implemented to contain, delay and mitigate any outbreak, including strict surveillance, detection and prevention both at the airport and port. Three quarantine centres were also set up, an awareness campaign was launched and coordinated action was undertaken with WHO to better monitor the situation.
A series of measures were taken to prepare for the coronavirus, including the development of a response strategy in line with WHO recommendations and consultations with relevant authorities and stakeholders. With the COVID-19 quickly escalating into a global pandemic with severe repercussions, the first related death was reported on 21 March, three days after the virus was officially detected in the country.
Mauritius stepped up its response accordingly to protect the health of the population. Some Rs 208 million have been made available to the Ministry of Health and Wellness for the acquisition of new medical equipment in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The country’s testing capacity has also been increased the donation of 20,000 tests, 1,000 protective gear and 100,000 masks by the Jack Ma Foundation in late March and 10,000 tests are expected to arrive from Europe in April 2020. In addition, the Mauritian embassy in China is preparing an order for even more tests and protective gear, which will be flown into the country during the course of April.
As a preventive measure, the country’s borders had already been closed to travellers – including cruise ship passengers in the port – on 18 March and all public and private educational institutions across the country were shut down the following day. A curfew order was issued on 23 March before going on a total lockdown, except for essential services, 24 hours later.
That same day, all supermarkets, shops and bakeries were temporarily closed till 31 March. Following the extension of the curfew order, the restrictions on shopping were relaxed on 2 April with twice-weekly access given as per alphabetical order of family name to every household under strict sanitary conditions. An online shopping platform has also been rolled out on Friday 27 March by the local authorities in partnership with the Mauritius Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI).
Support to the most deprived
From early into the crisis, Mauritius has taken a set of measures to support households and communities. These include the distribution of 35,000 food packs to vulnerable people, a Wage Support Scheme, support to informal workers and communities and a Special Assistance Plan by the Bank of Mauritius for families having contracted a housing loan.
To provide relief to the most deprived of our citizens, a COVID-19 Solidarity Fund has been established. The President of the Republic and a number of parliamentarians have already pledged to contribute 10% of their salary for a year to the Fund. The Mauritian people are also encouraged to play their part and as at mid April 2020, the total funds collected had reached more than Rs 60 million.
There have also been repeated calls to be vigilant and observe all precautionary measures. A task force is chaired by the Prime Minister daily and a National Communication Committee has been formed to provide updates on the situation to the population, which is also regularly advised to stay home and avoid any social contact which is not of urgent necessity. Other communication tools include a 24/7 centralised emergency hotline (8924), the official Facebook page of the Ministry of Health and Wellness, a dedicated website and beSafeMoris, a mobile application developed by Mauritius Telecom.
COVID-19 is more than just a health crisis. With the support of various airlines, embassies and private operators like BlueSky, the government had to organise the repatriation of some foreign nationals to their home countries as well as returning Mauritian nationals to the island following the lockdown. The last Air Mauritius flight took off on 28 March and all flights, save for flights for Rodrigues and exceptional repatriation flights, have been suspended until 30 April.
Financial support plan
Anticipating the economic impact of the novel coronavirus, especially on the tourism, trade, construction, and manufacturing sectors, the Government has announced a 10% reduction in its overall spending. Additionally, an initial financial support plan to the tune of Rs 9 billion has been approved to mitigate the adverse impacts of the crisis. An Implementation and Monitoring Committee comprising public and private sector representatives will ensure its effective implementation.
Various fiscal and monetary measures are being made available to economic operators at the macroeconomic and cross-sectoral level. All work permits expiring this year will be automatically extended to 31 December 2021. A Work at Home Scheme will be promoted and an e-Government Digital Bureau will be set up to minimise human contact.
On the tourism front, the passenger fee on air tickets will be suspended up to 31 July 2020 for visitors from Reunion, Australia, and South Africa.
With regard to the exports sector, the Freight Rebate Scheme will be extended for exports to South Africa and Tamatave and that the Speed-to-Market Scheme will also include exports of manufactured goods to Africa, Japan, Australia, Canada and the Middle East up to 31 December 2020. Moreover, an amount of Rs 100 million has been earmarked to encourage local production of food crops.
In an effort to contain the impact of the virus, special arrangements have also been made for students and motor vehicle owners.
Solidarity at all levels
Although the full impacts of the pandemic are still unknown, they will manifest in different ways. In the meantime, people and organisations from all fields and all levels are coming together to get through the crisis and prepare for an eventual recovery.
Public health and the economy, especially our tourism industry, commodity prices, trade, investment and finance flows are likely to take a heavy blow. Joining in the national effort to tackle the crisis, Business Mauritius therefore continues to work closely on different front with the authorities and other relevant stakeholders and has set up six response committees on health, economic recovery, cross-border logistics, food, necessary supplies and energy, human resources as well as communication, with the participation of both the ENL and Rogers Groups.
With the temporary shutting down of hotels, most operators in the sector, including Veranda Hospitality & Leisure and Beachcomber Resorts & Hotels have allowed the use of their properties for quarantine purposes. A number of initiatives have been put in place on various scales, such as the setting up of #myENL COVID-19 Solidarity Fund by the ENL Group, leveraging the expertise of specialists from various industries, like Plastinax Austral and FedEx/TNT, the distribution of food supplies to the needy by ENL Foundation and the Moka’mwad collective, fundraisers like the “Ansam anou ed nou bann vwazin!” (Together, let’s lend a hand to our neighbours) campaign, to name but a few.
Most importantly, the country continues to closely monitor the situation and is leaving no stone unturned in order to take such additional measures as may be necessary in the light of the evolution of the disease.