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LIFE MUST GO ON

Covid-19: Balancing fear and survival

Life should not stop, even in the face of rampaging risks.

In Summary
  • You don’t anchor a seaworthy vessel for fear of pirates in the high seas.
  • People are tired of waiting.  They are reclaiming their lives, even as caution is advised.

The Madaraka Day presidential speech did not ease Covid-19-inspired restrictions. But there are signs the restrictions may soon ease. This hope is the thin thread on which desperate humanity hangs. There is uncertainty about post-pandemic reality. The situation is bad enough, any further damage would strike a rude blow on feeble civilisation.

Nobody ever considered Nairobi, and Kenya, would sleep at 7pm, and wake up to an ominous dawn. Or that residents of Nairobi would require permits to travel upcountry. Or that Mombasa, the tourism city, would be cut off from its lifeline—tourist arrivals. Or that Jomo Kenyatta International Airport would shut down, and planes grounded. Or that a biological misadventure in the East would scare the entire world into paralysis.

However, the medical aspects of Covid-19 is nothing compared to the economic destruction, which has rolled on for five months now, globally. The rampage of the nibble virus is still on. Analysts of global economies estimate between $10 trillion to $20 trillion worth of investments and potential opportunities will be destroyed in about 200 countries and territories.

The shutdown of global economies is debilitating. Job losses, crippled food production systems, destroyed supply chains, stalled global tourist flows, medical chaos, closed schools, and herd responses were unprecedented. This is the black swan economists predicted.

Last week, pillars of the hospitality industry closed for lack of business. The Fairmont Norfolk hotel closed indefinitely, and fired all staff. Serena hotel sent staff on indefinite leave, with a before tax May pay of Sh10,000. Other five-star hotels that rely on tourism, events, and conferences have since sent staff on unpaid leave. Some on a quarter pay for the uncertain duration the virus reigns.

Facilities that need a 75 per cent uptake, were down below 10 per cent occupancy. The sector that earned Sh163.56 billion last year is crippled. Staff, suppliers, and others linked to the hospitality sector are sitting out, waiting. The suspense is depressing.

The fear of HIV-Aids subsided when people learnt to live with preventive measures, even without a vaccine. Social responses to Covid-19 could be headed the same direction, in the balance of fear and survival.

Hospitals have not been spared either. Mater Hospital has slashed staff salaries for the next four months, beginning June. Some workers have been sent on unpaid leave. Unscheduled shifts have been introduced to reduce costs. There are fewer patients seeking treatment during a global pandemic. People are scared of contracting the virus in such likely crowded places.

The Central Bank reports 75 per cent of small, and medium enterprises, the bulk employer, are at risk of collapsing. But life should not stop, even in the face of rampaging risks. Ships are safe in their anchors, but that is not what they were intended for. You don’t anchor a seaworthy vessel for fear of pirates in the high waters. Cars may be safe in parking lots, but that was not the intention of manufacturers.

Productive adults and children are sitting out in pajamas, uncertain, bored, waiting for the end of a crisis whose duration of visitation nobody knows. Meanwhile, leaders gather daily around branded podiums, telling the people how to behave as they roll out data on wobbly testing capacities, infections, deaths, recoveries, and struggling medical responses. The officialdom has personified pessimism.

Economic indicators, even for Kenya, were headed south long before coronavirus arrived. But Covid-19 deals a further close-range blow to the gross domestic product. Countries that could cushion others in adversity are also reeling under the devastation of the invisible enemy.

Historians record two ways epidemics end: A medical and a social way. They end when infections, hospital admissions, and death rates plummet, within a given period. But there was a false flattened curve in South Korea. Schools opened, but closed again when a second wave of infections stuck.

Pandemics also end when fear of the disease wanes, mass hysteria goes down, and panic fatigue sets in. There are signs of a possible social ending. People are tired of waiting.  They are reclaiming their lives, even as caution is advised.

The fear of HIV-Aids subsided when people learnt to live with preventive measures, even without a vaccine. Social responses to Covid-19 could be headed the same direction, in the balance of fear and survival.