Op-ed – #COVID-19: In Defence of the Poor
By Soromidayo George
The world has been thrown into chaos in the last couple of months with the detection of Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV [SARS-COV-2]) in humans in December 2019 at Wuhan city in China. The message from the World Health Organization was clear – COVID-19 is the biggest challenge we face in this century; therefore, actions that organizations take over the next few weeks and months will be critical. Measures put in place will need to go beyond self-interest.
The fact that the coronavirus poses an unprecedented challenge which touches every facet of life and every human being is undisputed. Never has the world or its powerful leaders experienced such a daunting task of saving its citizens. The unseen enemy as they call it appears to have left many powerful listless and confused. While the race to find a cure is on, COVID-19 leaves in its tow countless number of dead people, taking not only with it the life and joy of many but also leaving many fearful and psychologically fazed.
It is incredible to see how things can turn around so quickly. World leaders did not prepare for a crisis such as we are experiencing with the coronavirus. The impact of this current health challenge makes an unprecedented change in the way we live and interact. The fear is multifaceted and includes coming in close contact, unknowingly with someone who has the disease but is not showing any symptom and also passing it on to others. This fear comes from a large amount of information we get on the virus daily. We have made the issue, rightly so or not, the central focus of our lives. The fear has propelled unhealthy and self-centered actions. Several people are buying almost every essential product such as toilet rolls and hand sanitizers from stores in a way and manner that has made these goods scarce and unaffordable. The fear is also more palpable because it is said that those with underlying health problems are more vulnerable and likely to be affected, which means that in countries where the healthcare system is frail more precautions have to be taken.
The economy is also not left unaffected as many have been forced to stay away from work. Both small and large businesses have had their operations affected. It is important that this impact is recognized by the Federal and State governments, so that they can understand how to support these businesses to get back to performance and also ensure that many do not lose jobs or the incidence of poverty worsen than it already is. Nigeria cannot afford at this time to lose more ground economically.
The impact COVID-19 will have on large businesses will also affect the smaller ones whose survival is dependent on the economic viability of the supply chain of large corporates. The supply of raw materials which largely come from China have also been impacted and the ripple effect which we have begun to experience, as oil prices fall and governments establish travel restrictions in different countries, will have a more devastating effect on small businesses in emerging economies like Nigeria, resulting in more people living in poverty. In a recent UNU report, half a billion people are expected to be thrown into poverty as a result of the pandemic. This means that we need to strategically design policies that will mitigate this issue and stimulate the economy for growth within a disrupted world.
While COVID-19 poses a grave danger to many, there is light still at the end of the tunnel. We sincerely hope that the projections that Africa and countries like Nigeria should expect to see the numbers of those affected worsen, will be the reverse. However, preventive measures taken by many state governments will only be effective if Nigerians fully understand how critical it is to embrace the advice given by WHO and other credible health institutions. Antecedents show that cultural and religious beliefs often prevail to the detriment of scientific facts even with those who are supposedly enlightened and educated. Therefore, widespread communication on what COVID-19 is and how to prevent it is really needed at this time.
Small businesses may have to develop new ways to serve their customers who have been asked or forced to live in a different way by isolating themselves. While the social media sites are a good source of information on coronavirus, it will also help small businesses to provide some services to their customers, such as ordering groceries and have it dropped at the doorstep or providing other credible information to help those in need of medical assistance but cannot go out for one reason or the other. We have seen an increase in e-commerce and the logistics around the delivery of things purchased on-line.
Finally, while we take every measure and pray for the end of this plague, it is time to sit down and reflect on what we will do differently thereafter to mitigate the effects of what we now know to have enormous disruption on life as we know it. The proponents of sustainable measures that will ensure that the world takes due care of its environment and our social interactions and wellbeing have never been more right. It is time we take heed to the voices of reason and do things differently for the sake of humanity.
‘*Soromidayo George is the Chairperson, UN Global Compact Network Nigeria (UNGCNN)