By Patience Rusare
WITH over a quarter of a million fatalities and close to 4,5 million cases, much of the global population remains socially and physically isolated to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In the past three months, the world came to a screeching halt as countries put their citizens under various forms of lockdown that have technically shutdown vast sections of the economy owing to the effects of COVID-19.
Global attention is now shifting towards relaxing complete lockdowns to allow for the wheels of industry and commerce to start turning again.
But the reality is that life will change completely after the pandemic.
History shows us that while societies often rebounded from such catastrophes, outbreaks set the stage for subsequent social and political change.
For instance, a plague during the third century helped undermine the Roman Empire, not only by decimating the population but also caused massive economic struggle.
It is also credited for creating an atmosphere that spurred the rapid spread of Christianity.
As recovering Romans increasingly converted to Christianity, they refused to contribute to maintaining temples and fountains associated with pagan gods.
Grand cities began to decline.
In the 12th Century, a bubonic pandemic led to the collapse of the British feudal system as the plague changed economic circumstances and demographics.
Ravaging populations in the Greenland, Vikings lost the strength to wage battle against native populations and their exploitation of North America halted.
In the 1520, the Aztec Empire was destroyed by a smallpox infection.
The disease killed many of its victims and incapacitated others.
It weakened the population so they were unable to resist Spanish colonisers and left farmers unable to produce much needed crops.
A 2019 scientist’s research from the University College London even concluded that the deaths of some 56 million Native Americans in the 16th and 17th centuries, largely through disease, may have altered earth’s climate through vegetation growth.
No one was left to tend many of their fields, so trees and other vegetation quickly reclaimed huge expanses of land previously used for agriculture.
As a result, enough carbon dioxide was removed from the atmosphere to actually cool down the planet, contributing to the coldest part of what historians have called the Little Ice Age.
Cholera and other outbreaks in the crowded and unsanitary cities of the 19th Century led not only to major sanitary reforms but to the institutionalisation of public health measures and town planning practices.
And today, as countries look to a post-lockdown future and consider what shape our communities might take in the months and years ahead, the question is how can we put shared benefits and sustainability at the centre of the recovery.
Difficult times like these usually come with opportunities that change the economic or social landscapes of many people. For instance, many people around the globe are embracing digital technology for work and school; there are likely to be permanent effects including more forced migration of reluctant business to the online realm and a rise in digital payments.
Most schools have introduced e-learning with Google classroom replacing the old-fashioned way of learning.
For much of April, employees in Zimbabwe were working from home, glued on Zoom meetings, which for many, if not everyone, was a new experience.
Now, some — but not all — have returned to the office, although with lower economic activity.
Flexible and remote working are likely to remain high on the agenda for most organisations, now that it has been demonstrated that commuting and large office premises are not necessary.
Struggling companies are reportedly reducing working hours and pay whereas some are downsizing their workforce altogether.
Companies that have historically shied from digital technology have gone digital within weeks, with an urgent dependency on technology to maintain some semblance of normal life.
Traditional retailers, restaurants and even vendors and local farmers have adopted online shopping’s ‘click and collect model’, which allows customers to order online and pick up their purchase at a pre-destined time and location.
Could the concept be applied across all businesses after COVID-19?
However, some businesses believes home delivery is not viable.
“Auto retailers are not currently set up for mass home deliveries and apart from the safety issues, the economic costs of such deliveries are massive and in low margin sectors like ours, it’s not sustainable,” said Lovemore Jere, an auto-spares Kaguvi dealer.
Transport providers are facing a torrid time as Zimbabwe United Passengers Company (ZUPCO) is the only transporter operating during the lockdown period.
Could this be the end of on era for commuter omnibuses and rowdy touts?
A new hygienic culture has been adopted as masks, sanitisers and washing of hands and coughing or sneezing into your elbow or handkerchief are on the preventive line.
“We cannot fully know what lies ahead, but we are getting glimpses of what a changed world looks like,” said one nurse who refused to be named.
Local authorities around the country also took advantage of low human traffic during the lockdown to clean up towns and cities and demolish illegal structures and vending stalls.
Local authorities were also directed to construct and renovate workplaces where informal traders and small businesses would now operate from.
This epidemic has made several countries realise they can live with limited imports, thereby saving the much needed foreign currency.
Local industries and universities are being capacitated to ensure the provision of goods and services which are not locally available.
Tertiary institution with engineering and technology capacity, including University of Zimbabwe, National University of Science and Technology, Chinhoyi University of Technology and Harare Institute of Technology, among others, are supplying hand sanitisers, masks, gloves and other personal protective clothing to clinics, hospitals and Government institutions.
Some good news coming from Madagascar which has already begun using its claimed local herbal preventive and cure for the COVID-19 virus — a drink derived from artemisia (zumbani).
This is a great stride in the development of African solutions to diseases despite criticism from the West.
“What if this remedy had been discovered by a European country, instead of Madagascar? Would people doubt it so much? I don’t think so,” Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina told the Western media.
“What is the problem with COVID-Organics, really? Could it be that this product comes from Africa? Could it be that it’s not OK for a country like Madagascar, which is the 63rd poorest country in the world…to have come up with this (formula) that can help save the world?” asked Rajoelina.
This precedence that the African nation has set will be a great story for many years to come.
Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Niger and Tanzania have already taken delivery of consignments of COVID-Organics which was launched last month.
Madagascar has reported 171 COVID-19 infections and 105 recoveries to date, with no deaths. Although it’s too early to predict the long-term impact of the pandemic, we know things will never be quite the same again.
We need to learn the lessons of our current difficulties and plan effectively to meet the challenges ahead.