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COVID-19: The long view

Published by The Nation on Sat, 30 May 2020


Vincent AkanmodeTHESE are dreadful times for employers of labour as well as their employees. It is a case of different strokes for different foes as the latter are battling to ensure that their businesses stay afloat in the face of the economic challenges posed by the outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, while the former have been at the receiving end of job loss, under-employment and working poverty.Since the outbreak of the deadly pandemic in Nigeria towards the end of March, the federal government, borrowing from the responses of the US, the UK, Italy, Spain, Germany and other developed countries afflicted by the virus, resorted to locking down the economy and suspending all forms of social and religious activities at variance with the rules of social distancing, all in a bid to curtail or contain the virus.It is the least that any government desirous of protecting the lives of its citizens would do, considering the astonishing rapidity with which the virus is terminating lives in the countries aforementioned. In the US, for instance, there have been no fewer than 103,344 deaths from 1.7 million confirmed cases since the virus manifested in Gods Own Country in January.The statistics are hardly better in other countries like Italy where the virus has claimed more than 33,000 lives from its 231,732 cases at press time, or in Spain where more than 27,119 lives have been lost to the virus since it raised its ugly head towards the end of January.Of course, Nigeria, like other countries around the world, is not spared of the virulent agony. At the last count, the country had recorded about 260 deaths while about 9,000 people have been infected.Yet events have proved that the coronavirus outbreak is not just a health and social crisis, but also an economic one. Whether we know it or not, the pandemic could have more devastating effects than most people imagine because the lockdown it impelled could be far more enduring than many are willing to admit. Already, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has warned that the outbreak of the virus could cause the loss of 25 million jobs worldwide unless there is an internationally coordinated policy response.This is no longer only a global health crisis, it is also a major labour market and economic crisis that is having a huge impact on people, said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder in a release on March 18. In 2008, the world presented a united front to address the consequences of the global financial crisis, and the worst was averted. We need that kind of leadership and resolve now, he added.In Nigeria, the authorities expect the rate of joblessness this year to hit one in every three, while the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects that the economy will shrink by 3.4 per cent. As businesses begin to reopen across the country, workers are adjusting to the new reality created by the COVID-19 pandemic, including shorter work hours, pay cuts, and higher unemployment.In the banking sector, for instance, commercial banks have resorted to closing some of their branches partly because of the need to reduce their wage bills, but most crucially because of the need to check the crowd of customers and curb the spread of the virus in high prone areas. The inevitable implication, of course, would be the emergence of a redundant army of workers who would invariably be eased out of the system.Since companies now have to run twice as fast to remain on the same spot, they have now had to lean heavily on the relief they can get from technology to cut cost, enhance their operations and safeguard lives. The long-term consequence of these is that the altering of our sources of livelihood will inevitably result in the altering of the way we live. Not a few people innovative minds have turned the adversity brought about by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic to advantage, raking in millions from the production of face masks and the production of hand sanitizers and toilet soaps, among other items designed to check the spread of the virus.In the long run, the economy could profit from the adversity of coronavirus with more and more people realising the need to be less dependent on paid employment. Mercifully, the authorities appear to be appreciating more and more the need to develop the nations infrastructure in order to enhance the business environment.
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