The world has, in practical terms, turned out to be a global village. Nothing proves this more than the global pandemic known as coronavirus or COVID-19, which may have been named after the year it made its disastrous entry into the public space in China in 2019, and has become a global pandemic in less than six months. It has disrupted the world in every ramification, as confirmed cases of people infected by the virus grows by the day.
Although Nigeria has recorded 44 cases, as I write, including high profile people like the Governor of Bauchi State, Chief of Staff to the President and the son of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, the truth is that it has not spread in Nigeria, and Africa, with the geometric proportion it has done in other climes. Africa still has the lowest figures, and thankfully so, because many African countries do not have the capacity to withstand a deluge of infected people. There are no test kits and other items required to deal with the situation. The so-called developed nations of the world were caught napping. Italy was said to have waved it away as unserious until it had 69,176 infections and 6,820 deaths. It has become an emergency there, and indeed everywhere.
The figures seem to favour Africa, which is why the continent should make it an emergency before it gets out of hand. China, at the time of going to press, had 69,176 cases with 3,281 deaths, a figure lower that Italy’s, which is an irony, given that the virus made its unwanted entry in Wuhan, a city in eastern China. It has since spread to the United States of America, where 54,941 are infected, with 784 deaths; Spain, 42,058, with 2,991 deaths; and Germany, 33,952, with 171 deaths.
Figures from Worldometer show that 428,217 people have been infected across the globe. But for South Africa, with 709 infections and four deaths, and Egypt , with 402 infections, with a rather high death rate of 20 people, Africa’s figures are, mercifully, low. Ghana has 53 infections and three deaths; Rwanda, 40, no death; Togo, 20 infections; Tanzania 12; and Ethiopia, 12. The virus, perhaps has an inkling that people in those regions cannot cope with it. One is impressed with the speed with which Lagos is reacting, and other states have declared it an emergency, and taken measures to halt person-to-person spread.
The index case in Nigeria has recovered, a clear indication that the virus is not a death sentence, although it has been observed that it hardly spares old people, yet the recovery rate is impressive. If the nation is locking down, as it seems to be doing, then it is doing the right thing because the old medical maxim stands true, to wit, prevention is better than cure. As the nation, and the wotld, battles with the pandemic, there is an obvious grim economic future ahead. I understand that President Muhammadu Buhari, who, thankfully, tested negative to the virus, contrary to speculations that he is so close to his Chief of Staff to have been unscathed, has already reduced the budget. The National Assembly will reconvene from its compulsory recess to consider and approve the reduction, and approve measures the regime has proposed to cushion the adverse effects of the pandemic on the lives of Nigerians. I hope the details will go beyond the paltry reduction in the price of fuel from N145 to N125.
It follows that, to cushion the debilitating effects on the economy now corroded by the coronavirus, capital projects will suffer. People have to be alive to enjoy infrastructure, which is why salaries should take first charge. There may be substantial tax holidays to manufacturers to enable them keep their staff, and recover from the halt in production occasioned by the stay-at-home precaution. Oil price has slumped, and the corollary is a massive fall in incomes accruing to government.
Those in authority will do well to tell the people that survival will take precedence over projects. The pandemic will drive economies across the world to very low ebbs but some will recover faster than others. The managing director of International Monetary Fund (IMF), Kristalina Georgia, two days ago, said many emerging markets and low income countries are already facing significant challenges. Investors, according to IMF, have already removed $83 billion from emerging markets since the inception of the coronavirus.
It was good that President Buhari acted fast in setting up a committee to look into the economic effects of the virus, and make recommendations. State governors ought to toe the same line, and get good advice on what to do in the face of a corroded economy. There are predictions that economies around the world can only recover from the sapping effects of the virus in 2021. For now, the challenge is to halt the spread of infection. In Lagos, where the largest rate of infection has been recorded, markets would be shut down to limit person-to-person contact. Schools have closed down around the country, land borders have been closed, and airspace has been shut except for extremely vital reasons.
These measures are very apt, and should be sustained until the danger is over. They, however, come at a great economic cost, which is why the authorities must also begin to see beyond the virus. China is said to have overcome the menace, a clear indication that other nations, including Nigeria, will win too. But we ought to think about the day after corona, for it will surely come to an end.