RECOVERY

Jump-starting economy will be even more difficult

No clear path to follow in getting over pandemic's economic impacts.

In Summary
  • It took a rapidly spreading deadly virus to severely damage all the economic sectors that are now “on life support”.
  • But it will require a whole host of things to work out before we can hope to recover.

Earlier this week, the Cabinet Secretary for Health announced the terms and conditions for the reopening of restaurants.

This coincided with the measured reopening of public facilities all over the world, and in all these cases it signals the same thing: That a government believes it has somehow managed to contain the coronavirus pandemic infections within its borders.

This is not to say that there will be no more new cases. Just that the government is no longer in free fall over this crisis. And that in the time since the first lockdown (full or partial) was proclaimed, the measures taken by the government had somehow stabilised the situation.

 
 

Well, we know that the Covid-19 pandemic poses terrifying questions at two levels. First is how can we save as many lives as possible?

This is a question usually answered by virologists and epidemiologists, working mostly through “computational models”, which may be loosely defined as the study of  “the behaviour of a complex system by computer simulation…a complex nonlinear system for which simple, intuitive analytical solutions are not readily available”.

This is stuff way above the head of any layman. So, we have often been obliged to obey the dictates of experts.

If we are told to keep a certain distance apart, that is what we do. If we are told to keep our children at home, then they will certainly remain at home. If face masks are prescribed, we wear face masks. And so on.

But beyond this, there is a second question: “How do we restore economic activity, and subsequently, economic growth?

Will Europeans – some of whom have lost their jobs and have been depending on government subsidies – immediately prioritise the purchase of fresh flowers with their limited cash?

This is not as incomprehensible as “computational models”. But it is actually much harder to achieve.

Take for example Kenya’s horticulture sector, which has gone into sharp decline, owing to the huge drop in demand – as well as the breakdown of the logistical supply chains to Europe – due to the coronavirus pandemic.

 
 

Even if the Kenyan flower growers recall their workers a few weeks from now, will there really be economical freight rates being offered by airlines flying to Europe; and a ready fleet of specialised trucks at the European destination, which will take these flowers straight to some climate-controlled warehouse?

And all this – starting with the cutting of the flower stem in the greenhouse – must happen within roughly 24 hours.

Finally, will Europeans – some of whom have lost their jobs and have been depending on government subsidies – immediately prioritise the purchase of fresh flowers with their limited cash?

In short, it took just one thing – a rapidly spreading deadly virus – to severely damage all the economic sectors that are now basically “on life support”. But it will require a whole host of things to work out before we can hope to recover lost ground.

Adding to this complication is that there will be no clear path to follow in getting over the economic impacts of the pandemic.

Now, although this is not the kind of thing which you can expect the great and the good of the Ministry of Health to announce in plain words, the fact is their policy up to now has been obvious enough and can be summarised in very few words: We blindly follow the prescriptions of the World Health Organization.

Nothing wrong with that. It is for just this purpose that the WHO was set up: To offer guidance, support and expertise to all nations, but more so to those nations that lack the resources needed for meeting the major health challenges of the day.

But this pandemic denies us all comfort in the wisdom of the WHO.

Over the past few months, we have seen the world’s leading experts in the fields of public health and biomedical research running around like headless chickens, changing their prescriptions all the time and arguing with each other over what was the path to safety.

More recently they have even added previously unacknowledged “symptoms” to what may – or may not – be proof of Covid-19 infection.

And this is in medicine and public health where we are dealing with laboratory sciences.

What chance is there then, that anybody really knows how we can get the economy back on track, and by what steps and over what period?