"" Welcome to my thoughts: What lessons have we learnt from this global pandemic?

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

What lessons have we learnt from this global pandemic?

Covid 19 pandemic has taught us many lessons. The lessons may vary depending on the size, economic conditions, and technological advancement of a country. Countries like Maldives was one of the hardest hit nations in terms of economic loss (GDP -26.8%) while US suffered in aspect of pandemic response measures and mortality, whereas Italy and Spain loss many lives compared with other European countries. The question is, why was first world countries’ pandemic response measures comparatively weak to that of the developing countries like Thailand, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Belarus and Panama etc? What did they do differently? The evidence suggests countries that took swift strict measures controlled the community spread better than others. For example Thailand and Taiwan learned from China and Singapore, and closed its boarders’ way ahead of many countries. Some of the actions include increasing country wide curfew, banning Inter-city travels, random testing, and choosing reliable testing kits on state budget.

What China taught us was locking Covid 19 epicenter with strict control measures stopped virus reaching to other cities in China. The pandemic also taught the importance of holistic approach to solve societal issues. For example Singapore was one of the few countries that took early measures to control Covid19 impact, and they did it very successfully. Unfortunately, the second wave got badly hit among social subgroup - Expatriate labour community. Their living condition makes more challenging for Singapore  to control  community spread among the labour force community, which results more economic burden to the country. Similarly, in Maldives among infected people 54% are migrant workers, it makes harder for authorities to deal with it.

 When Chinese authorities were busy with controlling and studying about the new virus, geo-politics triggered to evade the seriousness of unknown virus. As a result US and many other first world countries took it lightly resulting increase mortality. History taught us, that during 1918 Spanish flu in US, people went on streets and protested to show their anger on measures that central government took to deal with it. However, this time we saw mass gathering to call ending the lockdown and open the economy. What followed George Floyd death due to police brutality gave us a clear message that ‘what is closed to our heart matters more than unknown danger ahead of us’. Millions across the world took the streets without considering physical distancing; however, they were all aware that staying closer to a person who is infected less than 1-meter distance for more than 15 minutes will increase the risk of transmission from the infected person.

Another paradox we found was countries with advance health care system faced many challenges to manage Covid 19 infections, while the countries with adequate level of healthcare system performed better in controlling the virus in communities. It was noticed that, countries with mid to low health care system went rigorous preparation process to reduce the possible community spread going out of control way ahead. The key important lesson we learnt was regardless of how advanced the system is, if we were not prepared enough, we may end up in bad situation. When Professor Ugail initially wrote about his projection of possible community spread and mortality, we saw public uproar forcing him to release public apology. Similarly, when former president told about the possible community spread and widespread infections, he was criticized heavily. However, two months later, when Dr. Sheena Moosa presented her findings we did not hear such criticism, rather we accepted her study and we became more serious on community spread. The questions, what makes us invalidate Professor Ugail’s predictions, and what makes us to get buying of Dr. Sheena’s study?

What emerged in Covid 19 pandemic was the level of technology adaptation. Many studies indicate that Maldivian embrace to technology faster than any other south Asian countries, mainly due to the young population, high literacy rate, and access to technology. However, what we knew in reality was the level of technology usage in public services were very less. (23% less than India, 14% less than Sri Lanka and 8% than Bhutan). For example, if one requires to do a due diligence of an individual, one is required to visit various institutions physically and handover the original form for stamping and signature. This is something very common that most people go through to get public service job. Although the government uses GEM – internal document sharing platform among government institutions, public doesn’t see the difference in services. Covid 19 pandemic has forced to close offices as a measure to reduce further community spread. Nevertheless, most of the essential services were facilitated with minimum workers physical presence. Almost entire education system was on halt, business support services and day-today other services provided by the government were disrupted tremendously. What we experienced later was gradual adaptation of technology to provide various services. Geographical formation of Maldives makes challenging, and expensive to organize meetings.

Covid19 does not bring any new technology neither the existing technologies got cheap. Rather, it changes our mindset. We started breaking the barriers we have created on our own through various bureaucratic procedures. Gradual use of technology platforms gave us confidence to hold meetings, give various approvals, make applications, hold online teaching sessions, hold judicial hearings and, parliament sessions etc. It makes us to re-think the dark ages we lived on our own in 21st Century, simply not to use available technologies to do things for our betterment.

Now we are not afraid to take medications that doctors give through telemedicine services. We accepted the fact that home schooling is something we could practice. Lack of teachers to teach schools with less students due to high cost can be replaced with online teaching technics. Parents, students and teachers started believing that inclusive education is possible through online platforms regardless of geographical limitations that we have. Parliamentarians can attend the sitting online while staying in their constituents.

The pandemic ultimately gave us rare opportunity to go through various experiences to gage our efficiency, and level of confidence of various industries. We learned relying on sensitive industries will always have risk of disruption beyond our control. For example, there was no time Maldives has halted Tourism for such a long period time. According to World Travel and Tourism Council report It is estimated that tourism contribution to GDP will shrink to -78.6%. Rapid Livelihood Assessment - Impact of COVID-19 Crisis in the Maldives released by UNDP suggests that young people (53%) in tourism sector face economic loss either due to job loss, pay reduction and putting them on no pay. As a nation we found the importance of having high usable reserve. The countries with high usable reserve tend to release economic stimulus packages faster than those that depend on other financial intuitions.
The leader’s role in disseminating information to public was one area we noticed during this time. Some leaders were found dormant while others where heavily engaged to give comfort and confidence to public. In this regard New Zealand leader Jacinda Ardern was highlighted among the world leaders. Moreover the countries with Female leadership standout to that of counterpart.