The coronavirus outbreak is first and foremost a human tragedy, affecting hundreds of thousands of people. It is also having a growing impact on the global and national economy. Thousands of health professionals are heroically battling the virus, putting their own lives at risk. Governments and industry are working together to understand and address the challenge, support victims and their families and communities, and search for treatments and a vaccine.
WHERE WE ARE TODAY
In Kenya, 2020 marked the beginning of a Decade of Action towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Vision 2030, the Big Four Agenda, and implementation County Integrated Development Plans (CIDPs). However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the global, regional, national, local, and institutional context for development has fundamentally changed, in terms of scope, depth, and speed.
The world faces the greatest socio-economic shock in a generation, coming at a time of acute inequality, ecological fragility and growing distrust within and amongst societies. This pandemic is not only a health crisis, also a humanitarian, security, governance, and development crisis that is threatening to leave deep social, economic and political scars for years to come, particularly in areas and regions already weighed down by fragility, poverty and conflict.
For once, the solidarity that brought the global and national community together to create the Global Goals and national development initiatives are needed more than ever in not only handling the health context of COVID-19 but also its social-economic impact at global, regional, country, county, sector, institutional, household, and individual levels. Just as the SGD and Vision 2030 frameworks are calling for building strong institutions to create and sustain decent jobs and ensure education and health-care for all, and with the pledge to leave no one behind, and a promise tackle the global and national challenges in an integrated manner, the same framework and spirit is equally needed for humanity to work together and defeat COVID-19, both as a cause and a consequence in the development agenda.
The outbreak of COVID-19 highlights cracks in global trust, the pitfalls of global interdependency and the challenge for global governance. Epidemics are both a standalone business risk and an amplifier of existing trends and vulnerabilities. Businesses that invest in strategic, operational and financial resilience to emerging global risks will be better positioned to respond and recover. Pandemics top national risk-management frameworks in many countries. For example, pandemic influenza tops the natural hazards matrix of the UK National Risk Register, and emerging infectious diseases are tagged as of considerable concern. Seen as a medical problem, each outbreak of a potentially dangerous infection prompts authorities to ask a rational set of questions and dust off the menu of response options that can be implemented as needed in a phased manner.
The reality, however, is generally more disruptive, as national governments and supranational agencies balance health, security, economic, governance, and social imperatives on the back of imperfect and evolving intelligence. It’s a governance challenge that may result in long-term consequences for communities and businesses. On top of this, they also need to accommodate human behaviour. Effective governance of cross-border crises such as pandemics requires disaster risk management frameworks that involve information management (big data), preparedness, response and recovery (rehabilitation) at local, national and international levels.
The global nature of the pandemic reinforces the importance of a coordinating and collaborative approach: communities, counties, sectors, industry, countries, and global institutions. As Kenya and the world respond to COVID-19, it appears like there is a trade-off to be made: either save lives or save livelihoods. There emerges the dilemma - getting the virus under control and saving lives is, or saving livelihoods. This is what brings the need for a coordinated and synergistic need of working closely together: to help protect the health of people; and to help protect the health of the local, county, national, regional, and global economy.
As the world scales up public health responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is need for decisive actions to control the epidemic and provide necessary services and diagnostics to the people who need them. This requires a comprehensive approach tailored to the circumstances, with containment as the central pillar.
This approach recognizes that protecting public health and protecting the economy and putting people back to work, go hand in hand. There is, thus, need to do both without compromising our development agenda and national security obligations. As the government and the international community provide financial and non-financial support that are desperately needed, the place of health interventions is put at the top of the priority list: getting resources to doctors, nurses, hospitals, the purchase of medical equipment, and to help the most vulnerable people (humanitarian support). At the same time, this is expected to go together with support for economy-wide priorities (restore and strengthen demand and supply value chains): to reduce unemployment, minimize bankruptcies and, over time, build the recovery for Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).
The health crisis and the health of economy are intertwined and hence requires the implementation of policies that protect both lives and livelihoods. A robust response from the government and stakeholders is required to prevent the virus (health) crisis becoming an economic, social, and security crisis as well.
IMPACT OF COVID-19 PANDEMIC
The COVID-19 pandemic is primarily a health crisis and a human tragedy, but it also has far-reaching economic ramifications. As of April 10, over 1.6millin cases of COVID-19 had been recorded worldwide, with nearly 102,000 deaths. The number of cases, and deaths, has been growing exponentially. Compared to other regions, the number of recorded cases in Africa is still relatively small, totaling about 12,952 cases and 691 deaths across 47 African countries as of April 11. The five countries reporting most cases are South Africa (2 003), Egypt (1 794), Algeria (1 761), Morocco (1 448) and Cameroon (803). Even though the rate of transmission in Africa to date appears to be slower than that in Europe, the pandemic could take a heavy toll across the continent if containment measures do not prove effective.
By April 11, Kenya reported 189 confirmed cases, 7 deaths, and 22 recoveries. The COVID-19 pandemic is already disrupting millions of people’s livelihoods, with disproportionate impact on poor households and small and informal businesses—and the pace of this disruption is likely to accelerate in the weeks and months ahead. Across Africa, leaders in the public, private, and development sectors are already taking decisive action—both to save lives and to protect households, businesses, and national economies from the fallout of the pandemic. However, many African countries, like Kenya, are still in the early stages of organizing their responses into focused, prioritized efforts that make the most of the limited time and resources available.
For the first time in generations the barricade rests across the road, blocking access between the two countries. It’s just one obvious symbol and indicator of the massive and cascading impact of COVID-19. Illness and death are just the obvious health effects, but they are joined by children being, out of school, businesses closed, many people on the brink financially, transportation networks halted and travel restricted. And this in some of the most advanced economies of the world.
The way an epidemic works is much like a natural hazard. Its true impact is not just in what it does directly, such as a cyclone killing people and destroying crops, fishing boats, bridges and more. It is the knock-on effects on livelihoods and employment governance, transport, power systems, water supply, and the environment. The 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak was a precursor for COVID-19. It is killing people and overwhelming the health systems. The knock-on costs are immense as well and is going well beyond health. The disease affecting health workers, teachers, and keeping parents and their children at home for months, government workers are avoiding work, many small and medium are going out of business and others are slashing employment rates. As health workers around the world put their lives on the line to save others in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, many have died and thousands of them have tested positive. A global shortage of protective equipment has added to the huge toll on their physical and mental wellbeing.
The virus exposes state vulnerability. When we have even the most advanced and rich societies closing down due to its impact, what happens to those that have weak healthcare systems with minimal emergency facilities and capacity? What happens when governance is weak? What happens when contingency planning and resources are inadequate? How can you provide employment when the bulk of society works in the informal sector? Can refugees still be supported when your own resources are so stretched?
The virus exposes personal and family vulnerability. How do you practice social distancing if you live in a one or two room dwelling in a slum and it crowded classrooms? How do you wash hands without clean water? How do you protect yourself when you don’t have government information, or know how to obtain the basic services that may be available? What if there is little trust in the government in the first place? How do you work when your work depends utterly on face to face contact? And for those who have employment that can be home-based, how do you work when there is inadequate electricity, never mind Internet.
COVID-19 compounds these existing vulnerabilities by adding one more shock to the system. We must consider the most fragile countries in particular, already affected by all manner of issues, whether they are underlying issues like having delicate ecosystems, high population growth, rapid urbanization, narrow economies, being landlocked, or already existing threats such as conflict, community insecurity, environmental degradation, droughts and cyclones. These conditions already exist and should COVID-19 spread as it has elsewhere in these places, we could see an impact that would in terms of society match or even outstrip that we now are seeing in Europe.
Therefore, for any interventions to be meaningful and sustainable, this means helping communities prepare, respond and recover and doing so in a way that is not only about health, but is about the fabric of societies, and the resilience of communities. If COVID-19 exposes vulnerabilities, then there is need to work to build resilience, beyond healthcare in businesses, government capacity, contingency planning, transport networks and much more. The interventions should consider both short-term measures to protect the most vulnerable and long-term integrated solutions, where pandemic risk is actively managed, reduced and transferred, alongside and at the same time as other risks. This must be the reality of an increasingly complex world. So, while it is true that COVID-19 respects few boundaries, of age, class or financial status, ethnic group or political stripe, it is the impact across borders that should be a concern to policy makers the most.
BUSINESS AGILITY AND CONTINUITY
The ongoing COVID-19 socio-economic crisis is forcing business leaders worldwide to take quick actions to respond to the pandemic and its effects on their businesses. Thousands of companies have crafted crisis management plans, with many of them transitioning to a fully virtual workplace.