Opinion

The coronavirus: Is the government prepared, economically?

By Charles Lotara

As the coronavirus burns its way across Europe, North America and begins to take hold in Africa, governments face agonizing choices and dilemma on how to save both lives and the economy.

From public gathering ban to company closures, several safety measures are being put in place by governments to contain the virus. But sorry, those are not economic solutions at all. And, be under no illusions, even the best policy might not prevent the pandemic from exacting a heavily tragic toll.

In the struggle to get a grip on covid-19, one country after the other is demanding that its citizens shun society. As that sends economies reeling, desperate governments are trying to tide over companies and consumers by handing out trillions of dollars in aid and loan guarantees. Nobody can be sure how well these rescues will work.

In South Sudan, the government called for schools and all public institutions to be closed, but public transport means remain operational across the country and Juba in particular. Again, the suspension of public transport serves as one of the ways the government can prepare for the possible outbreak of the pandemic. Like other strategies, this probably saves lives – and certainly not the economy.

So, will restriction on the international airlines work to the advantage of the economy? There is no logical and supportive argument for that, neither will the quarantine of visitors from coronavirus-affected countries save an economy, which is already crippling before the pandemic arrives? Again, the answer is no.

Troubling findings by The Economist Magazine this week indicate that stopping the pandemic, which is not yet in the Africa’s youngest nation, might require repeated shutdowns – yet, it is crystal clear that such a strategy would condemn a country’s economy to the grave – perhaps intolerable – harm. Some very tough measures to consider lie ahead.

In France, they have suspended rent, taxes, and household bills. In Italy, mortgage payments. In Spain, they have nationalized all private hospitals. In Denmark, the government is guaranteeing the vast majority of incomes of any worker threatened with job losses. I mean, see, it can be done. Radical measures in radical times.

Now, what can a politician in the Transitional Government of National Unity do when the coronavirus would threaten the country’s economic landscape? The virus is not a joke, that’s what we all know. It kills, it makes people lose jobs, and this is not an imagination but the truth. Thorough preparations need to be done by the government. Are our politicians and policymakers up for the challenge? Will they bail out the people in the face of outbreak? What about businesses and corporations?

There are basically two broad categories that the government can employ to save working people and families from a looming national disaster. One is to increase cash inflows. The government should make it possible to keep people attached to their jobs, keep them on payroll, as they are kept out of workforce. This should be so to the extent the government implement measures that help employers stay committed to paying their employees, and keep them on payroll, that’s one really crucial thing to do in case covid-19 strikes. Cash payments and cash assistance are important as they increase cash inflow. This helps people bridge the gap of insufficient incomes to cover their bills.

The other major category is to decrease cash outflows to the extent that one can do things in terms of a moratorium whether on rent, tax payment, or student loan payment (if that exists). Those are the two moving parts, decrease the amount that people are required to pay out each month and increase what’s coming in because that’s the only way people are going to be able to hold it together.

Politics aside, coronavirus is a crisis like no other. It knows no political boundaries or affiliations. It kills indiscriminately, and the preparation to contain the pandemic requires radical aforementioned measures. Of course the health system must be upgraded. This is the right time for the government to improve the health facilities. No health institution admits a foreign patient on the face of the coronavirus, that’s a brutal truth.

South Sudan can contain the pandemic, which is yet to touch down in country. But without those recommended measures in place, the preparation remains incomplete.

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