The French island of Mayotte in the Indian ocean begins a three-week full lockdown on Friday evening to try and roll back its spiralling health crisis, but a local MP says it will not be enough.
Mayotte, a French archipelago off the coast of Mozambique, has seen a dramatic surge in Covid-19 cases since the beginning of this year. With just 50 cases recorded on 1 January 2021, the island is now grappling with 440 cases for 100,000 inhabitants.
As announced by Prime Minister Jean Castex on Thursday, the island will go into lockdown on 6pm Friday for at least three weeks. Unlike mainland France, all schools will be closed.
Given the infection rate, lockdown was “the solution” said Ramlati Ali, a local MP with the ruling LREM party.
“The pressure on the island’s hospital has become unacceptable,” she told France Info public radio. “We have 16 intensive care beds and 12 are taken up with Covid cases. One of the solutions to reduce the pressure of infection is to lockdown.”
At least two variants of the virus have been recorded in Mayotte, with 78 cases of the South African variant.
“We don’t have the means to deal with this,” said Dhoifiri Darmi, secretary general with the hospital’s FO trade union. “The staff are exhausted, especially the ones in intensive car and A&E, we don’t have enough staff.”
The crisis is indeed exacerbated by staffing shortages. With a population of 270,000, the archipelago's only hospital is struggling to keep pace with the virus. The pneumology department lacks equipment and patients with serious pulmonary problems are having to be evacuated to neighbouring Reunion island.
“Staffing is a fundamental problem in Mayotte,” Darmi told France Info, “only 45 nurses are trained each year, which doesn’t correspond to the size of the population.”
The hospital has activated an emergency plan, cancelling non-essential treatment. “It will allow us to redeploy teams and given some of the nurses some breathing space,” Darmi told France Info.
Lockdown will not be enough
Mayotte is just 70kms away from the poor Comoros islands where the South African variant is circulating. Travel between Mayotte and the Comoros is restricted but people desperate to get treatment continue to enter Mayotte illegally.
“Everyone knows that our borders are what they are, that’s to say porous,” said Ramlati Ali. “People come and go between Mayotte and the other islands. We were expecting the South African variant to come, and it did. Lockdown alone will not be enough.”
Mayotte's prefect has announced that coastal and air surveillance will be boosted.
“If we manage to stop the flow of people coming from other islands, we will be able to stop what’s happening in our territories,” Ali said. “It could bring the desired results, maybe not immediately, but we hope that in the three weeks, to see a downward curve.
Keen to get vaccinated
Mayotte now needs to speed up its vaccination programme, which only officially began on 25 January.
"We have lacked behind on vaccination," Ali admitted. It took Mayotte time to get the freezers necessary to be able to store the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine.
"So far 4,680 doses have arrived on the territory and 88 percent of those have been administered," she explained.
"I have alerted the government that we absolutely must get vaccinated quickly. People here are not as reticent as in mainland France. We’ve lived through many infectious diseases and vaccination. People understand what it means in terms of prevention.”