The trial and error of re-opening the economy

As the push to reopen economies becomes increasingly urgent, one can’t help but feel it is a no-win or lose-lose situation. Looking at how other countries fared with the reboot of their economies will be critical in helping you plan for running a business in the era of COVID-19 writes Kojo Baffoe.

Across the country, across the continent and across the world, ‘reopening the economy’ has become the latest catchphrase. The extreme levels of uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought to the world are unsurpassed in modern human history. And, having transitioned from the Industrial Age into the Information Age at the end of the last century, trying to keep track of and create a coherent thread from the incessant stream of information we are bombarded with is damn near impossible.

In an article on Wired’s site by Julian Birkinshaw, titled Beyond The Information Agehe writes, under the heading Paralysis through Analysis, “In a world of ubiquitous information, there is always more out there. Information gathering is easy, and often quite enjoyable as well…Many corporate decisions are delayed because of the need for further analysis. Whether due to the complexity of the decision in front of them, or because of the fear of not performing sufficient due diligence, the easy option facing any executive is simply to request more information.”

This is where we find ourselves today as the push to reopen economies become increasingly urgent. Rampant unemployment, loss of livelihood for individuals, each country’s ability to operate; these are all factors that come into play while also are ensuring that the health of the populace is taken care of, amidst the pandemic.

In truth, one can’t help but feel it is a no-win or lose-lose situation.

Countries are starting to open up their economies, some earlier than others, with nothing but theory and hope to help them navigate the next couple of months. It is near impossible to determine the success of this, for each country, immediately. Hindsight can be the only judge, when we look back weeks, months and years from now.

The economic pain that has been experienced globally cannot be understated, especially in a world where supply chains are so interlinked. The breaks in manufacturing, shipping, etc have all impacted on product supply around the world. Orders have been put on hold or cancelled. Contracts are being negotiated or cancelled. The downturn in most services has resulted in small businesses in every country on the planet struggling to stay afloat or being outright closed down. Within this climate, one only has to look at Asia, in particular countries like China, Korea, Japan and the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong, to see the effects of reopening too soon.

In an AP report, within 10 days of relaxing social distancing rules, China and South Korea had an increase in new infections, having gotten the number of new infections down to a handful. On Japan’s second-largest island, Hokkaido, three weeks after the reopening, they had to go on lockdown again. The same thing happened with Hong Kong and Singapore.

These happened primarily in March and now, with the pressure to reopen in most countries, including in South Africa, the hope is that we can learn from the lessons of Asian countries.

If you are looking for lessons from closer to home, it was reported that there was a 24% increase in infections in Accra, Ghana within days of ending their three-week lockdown in May. And yet, in some ways, the alternative was as difficult a choice in a country where those with a safety net in terms of work are a small portion of the population in the same way that it is for many African countries.

The simple reality is that this is all trial and error where the stakes are high, however you look at it.

As we reopen, it is important that we not only continue to be vigilant, with social distancing, hand-washing, sanitising and wearing masks but that we also plan the next steps in our business with the reality of the upsurge in positive cases that is beckoning and the impact thereof.

By Kojo Baffoe