ALL AT SEA & SCUPPERED

By: Stuart White 20-08-2020

Categories:HRMC Articles written by Managing Director, Stuart White,

Am I allowed to rant? Can I get this off my chest that I want to get on with my life and for this pandemic to be over? I am sick of face masks, social distancing, hand sanitisers and that bloody term ‘the new normal’. But, mostly I am sick of the uncertainty and with no end in sight sick to my stomach at the state of the economy and knock-on financial pain and suffering  that’s just beginning and I am sick to death of not knowing what to do!  

"The six-month anniversary of the outbreak coincides with reaching 10 million cases and 500,000 deaths," WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press briefing recently. "Six months ago, none of us could have imagined how our world—and our lives—would be thrown into turmoil by this new virus." No shit, Sherlock!

At the start of this year the optimist in me thought this would blow over in a flash. Instead it’s feeling like a distant and unpopular relative who arrives at your doorstep to stay the night but just stays put and you can’t get rid of them. Ghebreyesus proclaimed that “The virus still has a lot of room to move... this is not even close to being over”.  He can’t be serious?

I have vehemently resisted the term ‘ the new normal’; partly because I don’t want to accept a reality of remote working, no physical contact, travel bans, and paranoia about who and what you can touch. Partly also because I really did believe that a lot of the precautions and lockdowns were much ado about nothing, or to be honest too big a price to pay. The picture facing Botswana today is one that is facing many countries because you can’t lockdown a country, tell its people to stay at home, take away cash, economically strangle industries, create bankruptcy, and not avoid the likelihood of one of the  worst recessions in living memory. 

I flippantly referenced the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2008 a little while back but there are some differences with this.  The GFC was a fiscal shockwave that swept across the major markets and took a significant toll on the real economy. By contrast COVID-19 is a public health crisis and businesses, workers and the finance sectors are feeling the consequences of the ill effect on the economy because of draconian containment efforts – lockdowns, transportation bans and restrictions of public gatherings. And here is the rub - unless the public health crisis resolves, there is nothing that is going to change in the economy. You can’t throw anything at this unless it’s a cure and who knows how far away that is?

In the face of never having been here before we are all left wondering what to do, ‘we’ being government, institutions, people like you and I. Doing nothing, doing something but what? I welcome the day when I can discuss this with hindsight.
Some pundits are saying that there will be a steady increase in the number of daily global cases through to the beginning of 2021. There are apparently 3 main contributing factors to this. First, Brazil and the United States—which are currently contributing the largest numbers of daily cases to the global tally—do not seem to be changing the trajectory of their pandemic response. Second, several countries are just now experiencing their first up-tick of cases. Third, a resurgence of cases from countries that have efficiently “flattened the curve” and loosened social distancing requirements is likely to continue in the coming months. For these reasons—and because most of the global population is still susceptible to infection - this disease is here to stay, just like that parasitic family member that can’t take a hint.

With this pandemic, however, Africa has responded differently to the rest of the world and although the WHO says we may not have reached our peak, up to date reports show a “25% decrease in cases as compared to 75 326 cases registered during the previous reporting period (5 - 11 August 2020). Although South Africa reported a majority of the new cases, 46% (26 035), it also continues to record a remarkable downward trajectory in trend. There was also reduction in incidence cases in some of the previous hotspots countries, including Nigeria, Ghana, Algeria and Kenya in the past week. While these indicators are encouraging, the figures should be cautiously interpreted as they may be affected by many factors, including the current testing capacity, strategy and delays in reporting”.

Within this context I admitted to my Finance Director that I was sticking my head in the sand with business issues  In the face of so much uncertainty and contradiction, I confessed to not knowing which path to choose and as a result of that I am stuck – standing stock still instead of marching bravely forward.  To be honest I can’t actually see a path. It’s as though I have metaphorically run out of road and I need to consider flight, fight or something equally radical when I have only ever strolled purposefully onward. I know I am not alone. Facing reality is just too painful at times, ignoring it, however, will be at my peril. I am thinking I need to stop moaning and babbling on and on about wanting my life to normalise, as if beating on a wall will transform it into a door and outside the door will be the fabled Yellow Brick Road. So as a humble Buddha I am falling back on the unapologetic idiom that it is what it is and there’s nothing I can do about it.  Yet, the Gordon Gekko in me is demanding a plan. I’m guessing there are a few others in that boat too and we’ve all got the same sinking feeling.  Has anyone got a lifeboat to row us ‘Back to the Future’?