DIAZ: Covid-19: Epoch of a new normal

DIAZ: Covid-19: Epoch of a new normal

The coronavirus pandemic is the defining global health crisis of our time and the greatest challenge we have faced since World War II.

Since its emergence in Asia late last year, the Covid-19 disease has spread to almost every corner of the world – with cases rising by the day.

It has brought unprecedented changes to our daily routines and its impact is now evident on every aspect of life on earth.

However, countries are racing to curb the spread of the virus by deploying different tactics – testing and treating patients, contact tracing, limiting travel, quarantining citizens and cancelling large gatherings such as sporting events, concerts and even learning in schools.

At the same time, some out-of-the-box recommendations have emerged in the rush to contain the pandemic including the Madagascar-based herbal dose – though yet to get approval from the scientific community.

Nevertheless, Covid-19 is much more than a health crisis. It is distressing every county it spreads into.

This new emergency has the potential to create devastating social, economic and political crises that will leave deep scars.

Unfortunate impact

People are losing jobs and incomes every day; they do not know when normality will return.

Small island-nations that heavily depend on tourism have empty hotels and deserted beaches – the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that 195 million jobs could be lost as a result of the pandemic.

As Covid-19 continues to linger, the global economy seems to be collapsing. As such, most countries have decided to ease on lockdowns and restrictions – reopen some of the businesses but remain keen on maintaining other precautions.

For instance, in spite of the palpable state of the virus in Dubai and elsewhere in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as well as a spike in confirmed cases, the government here is opening its malls and restaurants to stimulate the economy even as it tries to fight off the pandemic.

In Kenya, restaurants are reopening though with set terms and conditions to ensure safety. During the announcement on the ease on restrictions, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe stated that while Kenya looks to other countries to learn how businesses can reopen, the government has effected measures to keep the country safe including having all restaurant employees tested for the virus before being cleared to resume work.

E-learning taking up space

In other quarters, the pandemic seems to have changed education forever. Learning institutions have been shut down globally and as a result, education has changed dramatically with the distinctive rise of e-learning. Teaching is undertaken remotely and primarily on digital platforms. Some studies suggest that online learning increases retention rate of information and take less time – meaning that the changes resulting from coronavirus might be here to stay.

Before the outbreak, there was already a high adoption rate of education technology with global EdTech investments reaching $18.66 billion in 2019 and the overall market for online education being projected to reach $350 billion by 2025.

Whether it is language apps, virtual tutoring, video conferencing tools, or online learning software, there has been a significant surge in usage of technology for learning since the advent of Covid-19. I believe that the integration of information technology in education will be further accelerated and online education will eventually become an integral component of education systems.

Major world events are often a modulation point for rapid innovation and a clear example is the rise of e-commerce post-SARS. While we have yet to see whether this will apply to e-learning after the Covid-19 pandemic clears, education the few sectors where investment has not dried up.

What has been made clear through this pandemic is the importance of disseminating knowledge across borders, companies and all parts of society. If technology for online learning can play a role here, it is incumbent upon all of us to explore its full potential.

Adapting to change

Our lives seem set to be changed forever even as the argument remains whether this would be for the better or worse. I strongly believe that this change will be for the better with the hardships rooting innovation and a change in tact in every one of us.

According to Maxwell Maltz, a surgeon from the 1950s, it takes just about 21 days to pick up a new habit. According to another study published in the European Journal of Social Phycology, it takes a further 45 days for the observed behavior to become automatic.

From the proven findings on change, accompanied by an already lengthy phase of the pandemic, the changes observed are definitely here to stay in one form or another. Even so, some Kenyans have sort to defy the inevitable by sticking to the old way of doing things – which goes against efforts to flatten the curve.

Recently, Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha expressed his disgust for typical behavior which has seen long traffic jams return to the roads in spite of clear guidelines urging all citizens to stay home and directing employers to allow their workers to operate remotely.

As Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said: “If we continue treating things normally, this disease will treat us abnormally.” Life altering changes may be forced on citizens in-spite of their defiance.

Flattening the curve

Some jurisdictions have failed to be bound to the bandwagon of restrictions by having unique propositions.

In Sweden for instance, the government has insisted on leaving affairs as they were prior to the virus: this response is purely based on the controversial herd-immunity strategy to break the cycle of infections.

While preliminary data has watered down the effectiveness of this strategy to a large extent, the country has insisted on its isolated approach.

Closer home, Tanzania President John Pombe Magufuli has caused a stir in the region by refusing what he terms as a copy and paste approach: the country’s borders remain open and so do the businesses, even as he takes on critics of his administration’s policy.

Locally, flattening the curve of new infections remains the prerogative even as the government ponders easing of restrictions, but will that happen with the increasing numbers of confirmed cases? The curve must by all means be flattened and that means no other option to the guidelines issued by the government – they must be observed to the letter.

The hammer was dropped on two regions: Old Town in Mombasa and Nairobi’s Eastleigh estate. The government announced cessation of movement in and out of these areas to tame the accelerating numbers of confirmed cases. Does this move create a sense of foreboding on what might be in store for other counties ? It might be the option despite the downside on our economy. But to save lives and prevent further damage, a lockdown on counties is inevitable.

The end-game definitively lies in the development of a cure or vaccine. The global pursuit for a vaccine in the short-term has received boost with the European Union (EU) pushing for a combined global effort with pledges to the course standing in excess of $8 billion thus far.

Financial support

What is imminent however, is that the government must endeavor to use its newly found fiscal space–including support from our multilateral partners such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF)– to cushion both large and small businesses as a means to shield the economy from excessive job losses and loss of livelihoods.

Already, developed economies have offered financial support for emerging and developing economies and this includes recent disbursements in emergency funding from the IMF including Ghana ($1 billion) and Morocco ($3 billion).

The situation is no different in East Africa with IMF approving disbursement of $739 million ( KSh 78 billion) to the Kenyan government and $491 million to Uganda and as part of emergency funding to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.

A further round of funding is expected in the near future including an expected $2 billion split by half between the World Bank and the European Union (EU) to Kenya alone.

The financial support is good and can go a long way if accountability is prioritized. The East Africa region has been bruised economically and governments offering support to private sectors and small business entities will play vital role in leveling the ground for a take-off process in quest for economic recovery.

While conflict and discrepancies may exist in containment strategies, what is clear is the world may never be the same again.

Emerging habits are set to become the new normal – handshakes may just be an affair from the past. And despite all the controversies surrounding Zoom, it is likely to be retained as the new way to hold boardroom meetings from home.

Chris Diaz is a Business Leader and Conservationist. Twitter: @DiazChrisAfrica