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.