OPINIONS Confusion and uncertainty mark the road back to business as usual


Confusion and uncertainty mark the road back to business as usual


06:30, May 15, 2020


The street and sidewalk of Times Square are seen mostly empty in New York, the United States, March 26, 2020. (Photo: Xinhua)

Has the world's COVID-19 curve finally flattened, or are countries too eager to get back to business? That is the lingering issue as the threat posed by the pandemic seems to be less of a scare with every passing day.

Gradually, lockdowns are being lifted across the world, with authorities implementing various measures to avoid a second wave of infections. Still, there are countries that have decided they can never be too sure, and have decided to risk it all.

But much as one engages in wishful thinking about the duration of COVID-19 will be around, the pandemic will be a reality hovering above almost every aspect of our lives. Well, up until the time there is an effective vaccine.

According to the latest statistics from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the world has surpassed four million confirmed cases, with 291,487 deaths. Most of these deaths have been recorded in the U.S., United Kingdom, Italy, France, Spain, and Brazil. More than 1.4 million patients have recovered.

Incidentally, these are the countries that are on the frontline of reopening business and back-to-work campaigns. Maybe it is due to the thinking that they have been through the worst, and the people have most likely acquired substantial herd immunity to succumb to a second wave of infections.

No one expected that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson would advocate for a return to business that soon. On Sunday evening, Johnson released a three-phase plan that would see Britons out of home en masse, starting Wednesday.

But his plan has not gone down well not just with the Britons themselves, but even with the other UK members, particularly Scotland and Wales. Many do not see the basis of such opening, saying that a rush back to normalcy is bound to risk the gains made so far in the fight against COVID-19, as well as lead to a second wave.

It is really confusing, with countries now seemingly making "individual" decisions on how to proceed as they acclimatize to the crisis. However, this lack of a united front against COVID-19 is dangerous, since no one is safe if at least one is infected.

In the United States, reopening has become a hot political topic, with Trump totally ignoring the red flags from the experts on the risks involved in an indiscriminate reopening. With over 1.4 million confirmed cases and more than 83,000 deaths, a full and premature reopening is foolhardy. 

Much of the European Union is also daring to get back, although with different rules. Schools are reopening, even as experts warn that children are also a high risk factor in the transmission of the coronavirus.

The sporting world in Europe is also making news, with major football leagues in the UK, Spain and Italy exploring ways of officially ending the 2019-2020 season soon in order to recoup some of the massive losses from the cancellation of matches. But both medical and sporting experts have cautioned against such moves until testing, tracing and isolating are universally available.

In Africa, governments are generally unable to come up with a clear roadmap for return to business. In several countries, authorities are turning a blind eye as people swarm back to towns and cities to earn money for their families' basic needs. With no money to buy food for the millions of poor people, or an economic revival plan, there is not much governments can do.

There is hardly any national or regional economic stimulus package in the continent, due to past poor economic performance. The unstated anxiety and confusion are on ways of keeping businesses alive, lest they stall completely. 

There is a feeling of déjà vu around the world, a feeling that there is need to fight the worst before it comes. Even with the massive dedicated economic stimulus packages, big economies cannot sustain the increasing rates of unemployment. In any case, money must meet labor for production to take place.

A lot of fears linger about what the future portends. One major headache that people have to grapple with is the mismatch of COVID-19 prevention measures in different countries, and even within countries.

Moreover, as tough restrictions on movement are eased, countries are experiencing a re-emergence of COVID-19 cases after an increase in concentrated human activity. Last week, Germany, France and China reported new cases, as infections rebound.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility and unsustainability of the current global economic model. It is a Catch-22 situation, with countries desperate to jumpstart their economies in an environment where people's incomes have shrank tremendously. But the price of returning to normalcy hastily might exceed that of extending the lockdowns until the pandemic is fully under control.

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