A look at the socio-economic impacts of lethal viruses

By Lt Gen (Rtd) Denga Ndaitwah

HUMAN interests are always stimulated by the pressing desire to achieve certain goals which can be triggered by what is happening around us. The world today is under lockdown and at war against an invisible enemy called coronavirus, which is devastating all corners of the globe. Currently, the world is hard at work researching appropriate weapons to combat coronavirus.

Since time immemorial, human beings have been devastated by similar invisible enemies that have appeared in different forms. That made the situation very difficult because almost every time a virus appears, there is always a challenge on how to treat and cure it.

Against that backdrop, I started to research the histories of viruses and their socio-economic impacts. Some viruses no doubt have been killing and causing catastrophes.

The figures below, even though they may be shocking, must serve to raise awareness of the danger of lethal viruses. Historically, every time a deadly virus strikes, there are always catastrophic impacts on social and economic developments. This article aims to illustrate how viruses have been devastating the world for centuries at intervals.

For centuries now, the world suffered from virus attacks. Between 541AD and 542AD, the world suffered a holocaust caused by a virus that killed over 50 million people. During the 14th century, the world was again struck by a virus that tragically killed at least 200 million people.

In 1520, another virus killed over 56 million people. In 1855, at least 12 million people succumbed to a virus. Between 1918 and 1919, up to 50 million people were dead due to viral infection. Of late, at least 500,000 people perished from H1N1 between 2009 and 2010. Deducing from these figures, the magnitude and the gravity of the pandemic should serve as a wake-up call.

According to South Morning China Post, the first case of coronavirus was detected on 17 November 2019 in China, Wuhan City, Hubei Province, before it permeated the world and became a global pandemic. The four monthly figures were obtained from Worldometer, which compiles and updates coronavirus results. At the time of submitting this article, globally there were 876,348 confirmed cases, with a total of 43,521 deaths and 184,965 recovered.

Statistically, comparing the confirmed cases to the number of deaths and recovered cases, the world must remain optimistic about conquering and containing the virus.

China started as the epicentre with 81,554 cases confirmed, 3,312 deaths and 76,238 recovered. Being the first target of coronavirus, China was able to fight its war to its logical conclusion. Although China continues to record cases today, most new cases are said to be imported. Locally, it appears that China has managed to almost subdue the virus.

There is indeed a miracle behind the containment of the virus in China. As a nation, China has demonstrated its preparedness and capability to deal with unexpected circumstances of any kind as they emerge. Soon after coronavirus was detected, China erected two fully fledged hospitals within seven days, followed by a third hospital at the same speed.

A point to note, viruses do not know borders. They attack without discrimination once their targets have been identified. Today Italy and Spain are the epicentres of the COVID-19 disease in Europe, while Iran is the epicentre in the Middle East. Italy also recorded the highest number of deaths so far (12,428) followed by Spain with 9053.

The following three countries recorded the highest confirmed cases: United States of America (188,649); Italy (105,792) and Spain (102,136).

The statistics above do not tell the whole story. More important and critical are the social and economic impacts thereof. Without quantifying how many people are impacted socially and economically, those figures paint a grim picture on which to mirror, draw conclusions and foresee possible consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

Socially, although lockdowns are lifesaving measures, they also bring about social problems as some people unavoidably have already been thrown into dismal and hopeless situations. That happened after the majority of governments locked down their countries entirely or partially.

In the process, there are people who will lose jobs and incomes. The lockdowns by definition mean people must be indoors and can no longer socialise and mingle willy-nilly. There are no more social gatherings at public places including places of worship.

Most countries have already closed their borders, forfeiting even trade opportunities. Despite the danger of Covid-19, Namibia keeps her borders open with South Africa because her of dependence on South Africa for food security. Closing our lifeline to that country would be tantamount to committing economic suicide.

Worth noting with regard to the State of Emergence declared by the President, its termination will depend on the spread of the virus. The same applies to the 21-day lockdown. The three-week shutdown provides a scale on which to weigh the incubation period of the virus. Hence, it may be extended if the situation worsens.

Economically, Covid-19 will cause some hardships and challenges. Those challenges may lead to the closure of businesses, big and small. Some businesses may end up paying salaries and wages without services rendered. Further, that may lead to retrenchments and/or unpaid leave.

As a mitigation measure, some governments with strong economies have availed financial assistance to businesses for their sustenance and their employees for an unspecified period of time.

In that regard, President Donald Trump of the United States of America signed an unprecedented US$2.2 trillion economic stimulus rescue package into law. This is the largest rescue package in the history of America and was signed into law after a unanimous decision by Congress. That stimulus rescue package will support businesses, healthcare providers, researchers and struggling families during the deepening coronavirus pandemic.

Similarly, the European Union (EU) institutions and Member States decided to ease EU spending rules to mobilise 25 billion euro to mitigate the economic fallout from coronavirus. In the same token, as life is gradually returning to normalcy in China, the government is mobilising billions of dollars to stimulate and revive the economy. Unfortunately, businesses in countries with poor and small economies are at the mercy of coronavirus. Namibia on her part is allocating N$8.1 billion for stimulus package.

It must be underlined that Covid-19 is indeed a global health, socio-economic and security threat. Because of its nature, there is need that governments pull resources together to ensure burden sharing. Time of life or death demands strategic paradigm shifts where nations must put aside political and ideologies differences for the survival of Mother Earth and its people. In line with the burden sharing principle, nations like Cuba, China and Russia have already extended solidarity by ending a helping hand to Italy.

There are questions before I rest my case. First, should everybody get tested, what are the predicted rates of infected persons and deaths? Second, how long will this pandemic last before it is contained and eradicated in order to avert further social and economic catastrophe? Third, how long will it take for economies to recover from recession?

Fourth, what is Namibia’s food security strategy in order to circumvent the situation repeating itself in future? Fifth, do local businesses have economic cushions to fall back on should the lockdown be extended for an unspecified period? Sixth, what are the future strategies to fight future viruses should one strike without warning?

Lt Gen (Rtd) Denga Ndaitwah is a former Chief of the Defence Force, a holder of Master’s Degree in Strategic Studies, HOD and Senior Lecturer at IUM. Views expressed herein are those of an author.