We do not have to wait until the end of coronavirus before we open our economy, if there is one thing coronavirus is leading us to is a new way of life, not the end of life. Now, it is time to design a new lifestyle and open the economy despite the presence of the virus, here is why and how.
Closing a weak economy can lead to its ultimate death. The lockdown due to the coronavirus is tantamount to the absolute death of African economies that are largely comprised of small and informal enterprises. The economic repercussion of the lockdowns could be costlier than the virus itself. Locking down the economy will mean loss of income, jobs, and productivity, leading to extreme poverty, unemployment, and inflation. These economic issues can cause anarchy that might cost more lives and resources. The challenge is, how do we save these lives and resources in the presence of the deadly coronavirus.
We have started experiencing increasing desperation, hunger, insecurity, and poverty in just a few weeks of the lockdown, now ask yourself, what will happen if you lock down a hungry and idle person for a longer time? First, as they say, a hungry man is an angry and desperate man, and an Idle mind is a devil workshop. So, when these negativities come together, we should expect the worst. The good news is that the social and economic costs of the lockdowns are avoidable.
If we are to wait until the virus is gone before we open our economy, then we will not even have the economy to open. In fact, even if we have the remains of the economy, we will need to spend so much money to revive it, do we have the money for that? I guess no. The daily losses of these lockdowns, both human and financial are far more than that of the virus. That is why I recommend that these lockdowns should not last a month.
It is okay at the beginning of a pandemic like this one to lock down countries and states to buy time to study, prepare, plan, and adapt to the virus. So, one month should be enough for that. Any lockdown beyond one month will harm the economy beyond our ability to repair. That is why I recommend opening the Nigerian economy as soon as possible based on the following conditions and recommendations.
Similarly, it is not advisable to lock down cities with some weekly opening days, the threat is that even a one-hour window can cause widespread of the virus if the following measures are not taken. If the right measures are taken, then we can open the economy not only on those window days but completely. So, the following codes of living can guarantee the opening of the economy despite the presence of the virus.
1. Testing: we should provide adequate testing booths across the country, just the same way we have election polling units, we should have testing units, and people should be scheduled for testing so that everyone in a ward can rapidly get tested within 30 days. People must observe the required distance and wear face masks while in the queue. Everyone that gets tested, must collect the certificate of clearance, with which they can report back to work or open their businesses. Organizations or companies that are eager to bring back their workers to work can set up their testing booths for their staff. The idea is not to risk allowing careers of the virus to report back to work and infect others. Housing Estates can also organize their testing booths. Anyone that tested positive should not be allowed to go back to work or business. The clearance certificate must contain an authentication barcode so that law enforcement officers can ascertain the validity of the certificate at any time.
2. Contacts Tracing: As we open the economy, everyone must minimize the number of people they meet every day, whoever you are meeting must be very urgent and important, otherwise, do most of your conversations and transactions online or over the phone. Minimize contacts to the lowest possible level. Everyone must have a book or diary in which they document names of all the people they meet daily, including their contacts, meeting location, date, and time. This will make the contact tracing easier. In case, a person tested positive, it is easier to trace his previous contacts, so that they can also be informed and forced to immediately isolate.
3. Social Distancing: As I mentioned above, after opening the economy, we must minimize contacts, and create the required physical distance when meeting someone, this does not matter if it is our friend or a family member. The social distance must be observed while undergoing normal activities. What about in a taxi or bus? In this scenario, everyone going into public transport must sanitize their hands, minimize talking and contact if possible, wear face masks, and do not touch their faces until they wash their hands. Recreational centers must enforce similar measures and social distancing, and crosscheck clearance certificates as well. Mosques and churches can also be opened, but members must have clearance certificates, observe the distancing, wear masks, wash their hands and bring their prayer mats in the case of the mosque. The prayers can be observed in many batches. Those that may not have space in the first batch can wait for the second batch or pray at home. Weddings can take place using similar measures.
4. Enforcement: There should be a law that will incriminate any negligence or failure to observe the safety measures by business owners, employers, religious leaders, and even individuals. If anyone is found not observing the codes should be taken to court for fines or imprisonment. The new job for Police and Civil Defence will now be to ensure compliance with these measures. Security agents must patrol every location to enforce compliance. There must be checking points everywhere to ascertain everyone’s clearance certificates and observance of the guidelines.
5. Distance Business and Learning: Businesses should be incentivized to take their operations online. The majority of transactions and education must be online unless it is economically and technologically impossible. The government through NITDA and SMEDAN must budget some money to help small and medium enterprises go digital. Restaurants must serve only takeaway or home delivery. There must be additional guidelines for the physical decongestion of businesses and education. Schools that can operate online must continue online, and their examinations should be online too. Teachers must learn to ask analytical or practical questions for fair assessments of true understanding, which is a rewarding skill for this century. Radio stations are good mediums for learning for those that cannot afford the internet. Primary and Nursery schools may be opened but with strict measures and observing all other codes as well.
6. Protections and Cure: there must be sensitizations on the need for everyone to protect themselves and all the protection facilities should be provided for free by the government, this should include hand sanitizers, temperature tester, and face masks. Local manufacturers should be asked to supply these things in order to create jobs for them. Generally, people should avoid contacts, crowd and touching their faces before washing their hands. For the cure, we must not give up, we should not wait for others to give us the cure, we should set up a special task force responsible for exploring all possible cure and procedure for the treatment of the virus. This should include unconventional medicine like traditional and herbal medicine. There should be a national conference where all conventional and unconventional medical practitioners would be welcomed to present their procedures or medicines for the cure of this virus. So, we should do our very best to find the cure ourselves.
7. Organizational Response: Each organization or institution or business must establish their own special unit responsible for responding to the COVID19 and setting their own preventive and protective measures for their staff and customers.
8. Investment: The money that is being shared to keep people at home should then be used to support businesses implement these measures and to revive the dead businesses. This can serve as an opportunity for a big positive shift in our economy.
So, every state should constitute a committee responsible for designing the roadmap for reopening their economies and set up guidelines suitable for their own realities and set a target date for the reopening. The above guidelines provide the starting points and ideas on how to go about it. This is urgent, because, every day we spend under these lockdowns, we incur irreplaceable costs. Let us stop these avoidable costs.
Ahmed Adamu PhD.
Petroleum Economist, Nile University, Abuja.