From Bad To Worse

Matters of The Moment

Too many governments have caved in to pressures from the private sector to hurriedly ‘normalize’ economic activities despite the unabated spread of the coronavirus. Were people being considered collateral casualties and expendable in the blind pursuit of Mammon?

A medical worker takes a swab sample for COVID-19 in Wuhan, China. Photo – AFP – Getty Images

By Mrinal Roy

The accelerated resurgence of Covid-19 in Europe and across the world is forcing governments in Europe and various countries in the world to impose new lockdowns, curfews and strict confinement rules. This is a scathing indictment of the world’s mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic. New lockdowns are costly and a double whammy on government and the private sector’s strapped finances. It basically means after some 10 months since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic at the beginning of the year that government decisions to manage and circumscribe the virus in their countries have failed.This has become a major issue of contention in the build up to the US presidential elections next week.

Too many governments have also caved in to pressures from the private sector to hurriedly ‘normalize’ economic activities despite the unabated spread of the virus, the rising death toll and the undue strain on the hospital services and the frontliners of the country. Were people being considered collateral casualties and expendable in the blind pursuit of Mammon? It is obvious that the policy trade-offs chosen by too many governments in the world to prematurely reboot the economy before the pandemic is robustly contained within their countries has backfired. In too many countries, a lax implementation of strict sanitary and social distancing rules and the wearing of masks have also fuelled the spread of the virus.

Lockdown 2.0: A Second Wave of Covid-19. Photo – Sebastiao Moreira/EPA

In the absence of any effective cure and vaccine against a very contagious and deadly virus, which put the lives of people and in particular the elderly at risk, governments should have prioritized policies which safeguard the lives and health of people rather than rush to reignite the economy to safeguard the balance sheets of companies and government revenue. The rapid outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic across the world and the rising death toll provided potent evidence to governments that their priority should be to contain the virus by every means as it represented an extremely serious risk to human life. Against such a backdrop, it would have certainly been more apt and sensible for governments across the world to first and foremost opt to save the lives of the people by enforcing strict sanitary protocols and confinement rules to rigorously contain the spread of Covid-19 infection.

Instead, too many countries have hastily opted to favour the economy over the protection of the lives of people against a rampant virus. The upshot is that there are more than 44.7 million coronavirus cases in the world and the death toll from the virus has exceeded 1.17 million. The United States, India, Brazil, Russia, France, Spain, Argentina and Columbia have all more than 1 million cases of Covid-19 each. The US, the most infected country, has more than 9 million cases of Covid-19. Hospital staff and doctors who have been battling against the Covid-19 in treatment centres across the world since the beginning of the year are under tremendous strain. Under such circumstances, every Covid-19 death is one too many.

Chilling statistics

The Covid-19 statistics are forbidding. A second wave of Covid-19 is sweeping across Europe which is our main source of tourists. Europe has recorded more than 1.3 million new cases of coronavirus during the past week, which is the highest number of cases recorded in a week since the outbreak of the pandemic. Last week, Spain and France became the sixth and seventh countries in the world where the registered number of cases of Covid-19 have exceeded 1 million cases each. The record number of new cases recorded in Italy, Germany, Belgium, the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom threaten to overwhelm these countries’ capacities to manage and contain the spread of the virus. Belgium has the highest number of Covid-19 deaths per 100,000 of population, followed by Spain, United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden and France.

According to European health authorities, Covid-19 infection rate has been rising for over 90 days. Europe has registered 46% of total cases of Covid-19 in the world. European governments fearing that the spread of the virus could spin out of control are imposing curfews and a range of rules and restrictions to limit social contact in a bid to avoid full-scale lockdowns which would have dire socio-economic consequences.

The Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has thus declared a second national state of emergency, imposed a nationwide night curfew from 11 pm to 6 am in all regions except for the Canary Islands and allowed the closure of internal borders. Public gatherings will be limited to six people. Italy has also announced stricter measures to curb the spread of the virus since its lockdown in the spring. Cinemas, swimming pools and gyms and most secondary schools are closed as from this week. Bars and restaurants will have to close by 6 pm. The UK has decreed a high alert level for London and other cities and also limited indoor gatherings from other households and restricted outdoor gatherings to a maximum of six people.

New lockdowns

Last week, Ireland became the first country in Europe to re-impose a lockdown in the wake of soaring cases. Wales began a 17-day lockdown this weekend and closed all nonessential businesses. People are required to remain home under strict rules.

Germany has announced a November lockdown but schools and shops will stay open. Bars, catering and leisure facilities will remain shut. Social contacts will be limited to two households.

France recorded a new daily record of coronavirus infections with 52,010 cases registered in 24 hours over the last weekend. Hospitals risk being overwhelmed. Night curfews have been imposed on a number of cities, thus bringing around 46 million people, or about two-thirds of France’s population under curfew restrictions. Amidst growing calls for tighter lockdown restrictions amid surging cases of Covid-19, President Emmanuel Macron has this week announced a second national lockdown starting on Friday for at least the whole of November. People would only be allowed to leave home for essential work or medical reasons. Non-essential businesses, such as restaurants and bars will close, but schools and factories will remain open

Blind lobbies

The re-imposition of lockdowns in Europe, which is our principal trading partner, will certainly adversely affect demand for our exports and disrupt trade flows. Despite the present rampant state of Covid-19 in Europe and the world, there are still lobbies from the tourism sector and the political class who are still pressing for our borders to be opened in spite of evidence that countries that have opened their frontiers have registered very low level of tourist arrivals as understandingly/understandably people are reluctant to risk travelling in a Covid-19 afflicted world.

The country’s decisions regarding Covid-19 and the re-opening of our borders cannot therefore be blind to the accelerated surge of coronavirus infection in Europe, South Africa and Reunion, our principle sources of tourists. It would certainly be reckless and irresponsible to open our borders to tourists in the light of the present alarming surge of Covis-19 infection in Europe, the epicentre of the virus and the world.

The current state and configuration of the economy is no longer viable in a world undermined by Covid-19. It is therefore high time for a strategic review of every economic sector and our economic model to chart out innovative strategies to conjure or mitigate the adverse socio-economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic taking on board the immense potential and opportunities of the digital tools at our disposal.

Need for strategic thinking

Covid-19 pandemic is testing and exposing the limitations of the crisis management and strategic thinking acumen of government and the private sector. For too long, the private sector has been unable to contribute meaningfully in charting out innovative strategies and identifying and promoting new productive sectors of activity to replace the faltering traditional sectors of the economy.They have instead invested heavily in lucrative smart city and real estate development projects which have siphoned Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) away from productive economic activities which have limited positive multiplier effect on the economy at large, on socio-economic synergies and the employment of the qualified young.

In a context where important pillars of the economy are hobbled by Covid-19, the way forward is to brainstorm innovative pathways to recast our economic model towards high value added activities and an upmarket services offer in sectors such as the financial services sector, Information and Communications Technology (ICT), Business Process Outsourcing, healthcare, tertiary education, high tech delivery platforms and the ocean economy so that these become the new engines of growth of the country.

Such a game changing strategy would necessarily mean the induction of new economic actors and foreign investors having the entrepreneurial acumen, expertise, skills to urgently transform and move these services sectors of the economy up the value chain so as to offer more remunerative higher value-added services and products to the market.

The Covid-19 crisis is an opportunity for ground-breaking strategic thinking to re-invent Mauritius and reshape our economy on a more innovative and sounder basis significantly better geared to surmount the daunting challenges of coronavirus and the future to boost the prospects of the country well above the under-par performance of the past decade for the benefit of all.

* Published in print edition on 30 October 2020

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