Costly bailout packages dished out by government from the Public Exchequer to help the corporate sector reboot the economy must ensure that the crying lessons of the 2008 financial crisis bailouts have been learnt
By Mrinal Roy
Two cardinal lessons have transpired from the world’s uphill battle against Covid-19 over the last four months. Firstly, a rigid national lockdown and the confinement of people in their homes together with strict social distancing and hygiene norms are the only efficient way to stem the spread of the virus and save lives against an extremely contagious and deadly virus. Over the last months, there have been so many instances of spikes in the spread of the virus whenever the stringent restrictions of a total lockdown have not been rigorously adhered to in various countries by irresponsible behaviour of people who have been too lax in abiding by the rules of confinement and social distancing. There is patent evidence that the strict enforcement of a total lockdown in countries across the world has helped flatten the curve of infection and bought time to enable the health services of countries to cope with the pandemic and not be overwhelmed.
The second equally important lesson learnt is that any lifting of the lockdown restrictions and the confinement rules should be well thought out, very gradual and extremely calibrated to avoid the risk of a second wave of infection by Covid-19 as has been the case in Singapore and South Korea. Any rash lifting of the lockdown restrictions such as opening up the economy and schools too soon in the teeth of the ground reality of Covid-19 in the country concerned can backfire into a resurgence of the virus.
These lessons have been so well learnt by Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany which is one of the countries which has efficiently managed the coronavirus pandemic and an economic powerhouse incurring enormous daily losses owing to the lockdown. She warned the states in Germany which is a federal republic ‘against rushing to loosen the lockdown restrictions’ as the country is still a long way from being out of the woods.’ She urged ‘caution and discipline for the country to be able to return to economic, social and public life more quickly and sustainably’.
The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has this week also echoed the need for caution and announced that ‘he will not give the go-ahead to lift the coronavirus lockdown imposed six weeks ago as he refused to throw away all the effort and the sacrifice of the British people and risk a second major outbreak resulting in a huge loss of life and the National Health Service being overwhelmed.’
A growing number of governments and people have therefore come to realize the wisdom and merits of the above two paramount lessons learnt from the world’s experience of battling against Covid-19. Mauritius must therefore exercise extreme caution and must first ascertain through a broader level of testing (using WHO approved kits) of all frontline personnel and staff working in all essential services and related contact tracing that all carriers of the virus have been detected and corralled for treatment. The overriding object of a total lockdown is to starve any residual undetected virus in the country of new persons to infect and eliminate it from the island. It is only then that a sensible and step by step easing of the lockdown within the country can be envisaged while staying alert to any undetected presence of the virus in the country. It would certainly be foolhardy to risk opening our frontiers given the pandemic spread of the virus across the world.
Science to the rescue
The Covid-19 pandemic has also heightened the world’s interest and trust in science and scientific findings by researchers from renowned research centres and universities to help sift the wheat from the chaff in the maze of conflicting information circulating on Covid-19. Science is prevailing over ignorance, obscurantism, superstition and fake news.
Science and technology are also helping combat Covid-19. Apart from the development of contract tracing apps on smart phones (subject to individual privacy rights) to track contacts with infected persons and the spread of Covid-19, artificial intelligence is crunching large amounts of data and complex algorithms to find potential treatments and powering robots that can replace humans in hospital wards.
Scientific research is also being carried out by some 80 research centres around the world using different pathways and concepts such as gene sequencing to urgently find an efficient vaccine to counter Covid-19. The normal timeline to find a vaccine is between 12-18 months. The current race to find a validated vaccine is a balance between safety and speed. Clinical human trials have already started in research centres in various countries. Historically, just 6% of vaccine candidates end up making it to the market. Yet, governments, charities and big pharmaceutical firms are investing billions of dollars into vaccine research sometimes using novel pathways with extraordinarily low odds of success, to outwit an invisible enemy whose biological ingenuity has brought everyday life to a standstill. This is what scientific research is all about. It is a constant quest to continuously explore and fathom the arcane frontiers of scientific knowledge.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also enabled people to judge their governments and the political leadership of their country and the competence with which they are managing the coronavirus crisis. However, the strategies of too many countries seem be pursuing conflicting objectives and distracted by the pressure of vested corporate lobbies to restart economic activities, despite the potent risks that a premature easing of the lockdown could increase the spread of the virus and the number of Covid-19 related deaths.
Covid-19 has also focused attention on the absolute need for an efficient universal healthcare system in every country. The US government which does not have a universal healthcare system as the National Health System in the UK has therefore had to agree to pay hospitals to treat uninsured Covid-19 patients. Covid-19 is also a grueling stress test of the efficiency of universal health care systems in the world in the face of a life threatening and deadly new virus.
Unity of purpose
More than ever before, the world also needs to bury its geopolitical and trade conflicts and stand united as one in its battle against Covid-19. There is therefore an imperative need for national and international solidarity. This is thus not the time to be divided by a witch hunt for culprits or conspiracy theories and a futile blame game regarding the origin of the virus as is currently the case between the United States and China. The current trading of accusations between US and China is far from being constructive. It breeds bad blood and undermines the unity of purpose which must underpin the world’s battle against Covid-19.
There will certainly be time after the world has won the battle against Covid-19 for a post mortem of the circumstances which led to the coronavirus outbreak and its notification to the WHO as well as the steps taken to prevent its spread across the world into a pandemic. This exercise is important if we are to prevent the recurrence of such deadly pandemics in the world in future.
The elimination of the virus should therefore be the prime focus of the world’s battle against Covid-19, pending the discovery of a potent vaccine. The success of the actions adopted by each country to stem and eliminate the virus will therefore determine the timeline of an eventual return to some form of normality.
Costly bailout packages dished out by government from the Public Exchequer to help the corporate sector reboot the economy must ensure that the crying lessons of the 2008 financial crisis bailouts have been learnt and more importantly that all public funds advanced are fully secured and guaranteed by the beneficiaries. It is equally important that Covid-19 does not become a pretext to rush the enactment of questionable laws which encroach on our fundamental rights. It will equally be important to opt for a more environmentally sustainable economic model which is also significantly fairer to all stakeholders and to initiate the land reforms necessary to inter alia ensure that the country is as self sufficient in agricultural produce and other essential food supplies as possible.
At this critical hour, it is above all important to get our priorities and clarity of thought right, the more so as the battle against Covid-19 is bound to be a protracted and long-drawn one.
* Published in print edition on 1 May 2020