Barely one month ago, South Africa was still largely unphased by the looming Covid-19 threat. The virus has since taken the world hostage; a silent, invisible enemy causing havoc as we’ve never experienced.
When President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a state of national disaster on 15 March, we were in shock. When he called for a national lockdown a few days later on 23 March, panic set in. Never before in our history. Sadly, our first day in lockdown on 27 March coincided with our first fatality.
It’s hard to stay away from the daily infection statistics. We know they’re going to increase, but there’s an incontrollable urge to know by how much. We’re looking to the numbers to allay our fears; we desperately need them to show that we’re ‘flattening the curve’. Now there’s a new term, along with ‘social distancing’ and ‘self-isolation’. On everyone’s lips and all contenders for Oxford Dictionaries’ word or phrase of the year.
Retreat and adjust
This is what you most probably don’t want to hear right now. It’s going to get darker before it gets light. Covid-19 is not only affecting all of us, it is going to infect many of us. With over 1300 cases and the number of internal transmissions on the rise, the South African government has intensified its efforts to curb the spread by engaging in mobile testing.
Our collective responsibility is to ensure that we stunt the rate of infections to ease the burden on our already compromised healthcare system. We’re compelled to retreat and adjust our social behaviour.
Crises incite innovation and creativity
Crisis-driven innovation has brought us some of our greatest innovations and discoveries. When conventional ways of thinking and problem-solving are inadequate and may have even contributed to the onset of a calamity, we are forced out of our comfort zones.
That’s where limitations of ‘normal’ are thrown out and creativity floods in. Where the magic happens. So, as we come to terms with our lives during and after Coronavirus, what can we expect?
Well, for a start, ‘normal’ has been redefined. Once we’re out of lockdown, we will not return to life as we’ve known it. It may look familiar, but there will be distinct socio-economic, political and behavioural adjustments that will remain and continue to influence our society in the future.
Productivity gets a face-lift
This lockdown has given us the first tutorial on what is required for 4IR and digital compliance. For many businesses, the locality of productivity has been turned on its head. Where previously, working from home was seen as the spaza shop of the business world, it’s now what is holding our economy together by a thread.
The time and resources required for daily transportation to a location, a ‘work wardrobe’ and all other fixed office costs and overheads are replaced by a home office, reliable Wi-Fi, flexibility and a good dose of self-management.
It will not address all business models and sectors, but it offers agility, cost-saving and improved productivity to not only small- to medium-sized businesses, but also those that want to survive and thrive in the new economy.
This is particularly challenging for South Africa as our exit from this current recession is largely predicated on job creation, and many of the identified sectors are those that rely on relics from previous industrial revolutions, those that focus on manual, physical labour.
Our leadership must get cracking on creative solutions. There is no business as usual.
Profit-motive is passé
One of the biggest lessons that Covid-19 has brought us is the return of compassion and caring in all sectors of society. We’ve seen individuals, business and our government make extraordinary sacrifices as we prioritise the health, safety and wellbeing of everyone.
The average South African who is lucky enough to be employed, does so for survival. And we’ve seen this survival decimated overnight. Our most vulnerable are now the ones who will bear the brunt of the harsh reality. Many have to travel at least 2-3 hours per day, spending an inordinate amount on travel and other consumables, to ensure that they can eat.
The cracks and flaws of a global economy built on the profit-motive have been blown apart as its inadequacy is laid bare. There has to be a better way.
Perhaps it’s time for economists and actuaries to get creative around the implications and mechanisms of a universal basic income. Not as a handout, but to give everyone a fair chance at a decent standard of living.
By removing basic obstacles for individuals and communities that ultimately snowball into our socio-economic distress, we take care of and protect the broader society.
Inequality is ill-fated
All this has shown us is that, now more than ever, we need to reduce the distance between the haves and have-nots with the same voracity used to ‘flatten the curve’. If we can mobilise fairly quickly to contain a virus, then diminishing inequality is within reach.
All it requires is willpower with a common understanding that we’re more interconnected than we believe. To ourselves, each other, other creatures and the environment. And perhaps, we’ll finally accept that the scientists and climate change proponents were right all along.
We’ve already demonstrated that we’re up for the task. Let’s just do it.
Settle in for the long haul
There is no quick win here. And more importantly, there is no revert. Rather, what we have is an opportunity to refresh and reenergize. To come out stronger, more productive, and more powerful, together.
At the time of writing, the global confirmed active infection rate had surpassed the 1 000 000-mark, according to the World Health Organization.
Simple behavioural change is required to defeat this virus. Stay home, only leave for essentials such as food and medication; maintain at least a 2m distance from anyone; wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds or use a hand sanitizer; and, follow the belated recommendation of leading health specialists, wear a mask or some covering over your nose and mouth when you leave your home.
Covid-19 is here to prove that we can move beyond our limitations.