A Post COVID-19 World: Are We Prepared?


On the 12th of March 2020, following reports of the exponential rise in coronavirus cases in Italy, I remember tweeting that that the Nigerian government should stop flights from affected countries into Nigeria. (See below tweets)

Two weeks and a few days later, the government instituted a lockdown in several states where case numbers where significant, and the number of coronavirus cases stood at 111. An incident that took place over two decades ago came to my memory.

Down Memory Lane

I was a final year pupil in primary school at the Airport Staff School in Calabar then. One afternoon, shortly after break time, I took a walk from my classroom, which was within the administrative block of the school and headed towards the staff room which was situated among the junior classes across the field.

Along the way, I noticed this pupil throwing stones into an abandoned Volks Wagen Beetle that was somewhere by a fence surrounded by some bushes. I paid him no mind and didn't stop for a second to interrupt him. However, I did have a funny feeling about the sight and could not place a hold on what it was.

I returned to my classroom some minutes afterwards. While waiting for the next subject teacher to arrive, suddenly, one of my classmates rushed in panicking. He was agitated and announced that a swarm of bees had invaded the school and that we must shut the windows and doors of the classroom to stay safe. We immediately swung into action, shutting all the windows and the only door into the room.

While the uncertain chatter and panicky whispers filled the room, I wondered how many of my colleagues might have been outside before we shut the door. Suddenly, we heard a big bang on the door and it swung open as a couple of my classmates made to rush into the class, apparently being stung by bees and hoping to find a haven in the classroom. We all knew we were no longer safe. Everyone scampered in various directions - through the door and all available windows.

I remember running non-stop, all the way to the nearby airport where I was able to report to the fire service officers whose station was closest to the school. They mobilized to go sort the situation, and advised that I stay at their office and rest. Not long after I had begun to feel safe there, I noticed the bees had moved this way now. Running home was my safest and surest bet.

I recounted this story to relate the apprehension I felt when I came across the report where the health minister was reported to have said flights from Italy and other COVID-19 hotbeds would still have free access into Nigeria. It was the same as that i felt 24 years ago when my classmates rammed in through the door with bees all over them.

So, What Now?

Going by the numbers, the number of infected cases are not going down soon. The obvious reality is that the lockdowns in some areas have been largely ineffective. Also, Nigeria has only recently increased testing capacity to up to 1500 samples per day according to the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). As such, we are likely to see an even higher spike in number of cases in the recent days and weeks, before it begins to flatten out and then drop subsequently.

This would mean that lockdowns may be extended for a few more weeks. As a result, the growing insecurity might not abate, and the government may be hard-pressed to commandeer the military. A move that might further complicate the situation. For most people, incomes have been either dropped drastically or completely eliminated as a result of this pandemic. The situation is made even worse with the dwindling crude oil revenues for the country amid all-time low oil price trades.

Although some have predicted gloomy, horrible scenarios in Africa similar to those in Ecuador with bodies literally littering the streets, with the total death rates currently less than 5% of cases, it may not get that bad. However, critical healthcare infrastructure in critical care equipment like ventilators, nebulizers, monitors, beds, face masks and personal protective equipment are desperately needed across the country.

A Post COVID-19 World

With the impact of the novel coronavirus felt across the world, contrary to our contact-based greetings, cultures, and society, very strict social distancing rules will become standard practice. Large gatherings, congregating, physical and group activities that involve contact will be widely avoided and highly controlled.

As physical and social distancing prevail, people will be more inclined to engage technology and digital tools that aid minimal physical interaction. This will be seen in healthcare, education, religious circles, public transportation, entertainment and events, night life activities, travel and tourism, among others. Not only will physical interaction decline, revenues linked to physical activity/presence will be badly hit.

Disruption in traditional and conventional practices: practices such as dead body washing, lying in state, etc, will be abandoned. Handshaking and hugging will no longer be standard and common practice. Cremation will be embraced.

In healthcare in particular, physical presence and care will be highly controlled, and restricted.With new guidelines and increased restrictions, caregivers and patients will be more willing to engage telemedicine and non-invasive care therapies with new and exciting applications emerging.

Are We Prepared?

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."
- Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Throughout history, every crisis, pandemic, recession, depression and downturn, has somehow been a harbinger of new innovations and overall progress for all humanity. As highlighted in this 2009 article in the New York Times, Why Bad Times Nurture New Inventions, author Rita McGrath opines:

"With business as usual off the table in a recession, people become more open to new and efficient ways of doing things. And they’re forced to show more entrepreneurial discipline — you have to expend imagination before spending money.Tough times can make for good startups and boom times can sometimes be fatal to entrepreneurial success."

I quite agree. The innovations and opportunities that will shape the next decade will be borne out of this coronavirus pandemic. The big question is, are we prepared? Will we ride the wave, or will we be crushed by it?

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