Preserving life must be the priority

The world economy has gone through many crises before and has always come back stronger – with the 2008 global financial crisis a good case study. This is the resilience of the economy – that it can always re­invent itself. However, we cannot say the same about human life. People don’t come back to life after they have passed on, at least not in our lifetime.

The mad rush to open up the econ­omy and relax the lockdown regula­tions must be tempered with the reali­sation that we have not yet won the bat­tle against Covid-19. Just a week ago, we had a million infections worldwide. By yesterday, the number was edging closer to 2-million.

When countries across the globe were closing their borders and shut­ting down their economies, US Pres­ident Donald Trump was busy her­alding the record boom in the econo­my and was slow to catch up with the Covid-19 reality.

It is not a coincidence that the US today is the epicentre of the virus, with nearly 20 000 people in that country having succumbed to the virus so far.

The options before South Africa’s leaders are not that complicated: it’s either they sacrifice human life in pur­suit of opening up the economy too quickly or they rely on incoming da­ta to base their decisions to save lives.

Big business seem to be joined at the hip by unions in calling for what they term “staged, responsible” opening up of sectors of the economy. It is plain to us that unions are worried that a jobs bloodbath will hit them directly in the pockets. Unions don’t get monthly sub­scriptions from the unemployed.

But this view is both narrow and self­ish. A premature opening of the work environment will expose workers, un­ion members, even more to the ravages of this killer virus.

So far, the president and his cabinet colleagues have made the right calls and should hold firm in the face of mounting pressure to open up non-es­sential industries such as the alcohol industry.

Until the data suggest that the worst of the virus is behind us, it would be ir­responsible, if not treasonous, to open taverns as we all know the negative impact of alcohol in decision-making.

The latest data from the Department of Health provided sufficient evidence that the lockdown, while not universal­ly implemented, was yielding positive results. We can’t, therefore, embrace our worst instincts and declare victo­ry at this crucial juncture.

The government should be prepar­ing a radical economic programme of action to revive what was already an ailing economy after the crisis. But first things first: we should save as many lives as possible and systematical­ly open those sectors of the economy that pose the least risk in spreading the virus – opening taverns would not serve us well.

It would be wise to heed the counsel of Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Ad­do when he said: “We know what to do to bring our economy back to life. What we do not know how to do is to bring people back to life.”

We couldn’t agree with him more.


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