Letters

Necessary responses to COVID-19, but are they sufficient?

Dear Editor, 

In times of extreme crises, there is no greater comfort than to be governed by experiential knowledge, especially when knowledge finds a near perfect fit with the resulting challenges and problems.

Such is the situation in The Bahamas, at the moment, where we are fortunate to be governed by proven and experienced medical experts who are comfortable addressing problems that fall well within their professional remit.

Currently, the coronavirus (COVID-19), the most dangerous pandemic of recent times, has invaded the global psyche at a time when the proliferation of misinformation, fueled in part by the irresponsible use of social media and the uncertainty of leadership and decision making around the world, loom high.

Throughout modern history, nothing has filled our cemeteries more quickly than infectious diseases that either took the globe by complete surprise or were so virulent that it took a long time to develop effective “antidotes”.

This precedence suggests we are patently lucky to have first-hand medical knowledge driving government decisions at a time when the consequences of delay, misjudgement and omission in taking decisions can be quite severe.

To be governed by proven medical expertise that is a near perfect match for the medical challenges should provide more than a modicum of national comfort; in fact, it should be a source of pride!

Of course, all sorts of skills have ended up as ‘top dog’ in their respective countries.

Actors, comedians, dentists, models, painters, teachers, professors and a host of lawyers and former military officers have found themselves in charge of countries, with the main sources of leaders being the military, education, politics, business/finance and law. So, to be led by a medical expert certainly places us in a league of our own as a small island developing state (SIDS) and indeed, as a country, generally.

Of the 23 current CARICOM leaders, only one is a former medical doctor. After all, whom would you prefer at the helm during this crucial time?

In a crisis of COVID-19’s magnitude, however, it is neither unreasonable nor premature to look beyond current demands and challenges, as compelling and pressing as they may be, to a time in the not too distant future, when competing economic and social demands need also to be contemplated.

A shared focus on all issues will ensure our continuing growth and development as a nation.

I am a firm believer in “the first wealth is health”, but even I must welcome the value in strategic thinking at this time to ensure we do not ignore the next and subsequent phases of this dilemma in which we find ourselves, and turn our minds to ways that would begin to help us heal the deepening wounds caused by this mandated and comprehensive pause in our economic activities.

What has been done thus far is necessary and laudable but not sufficient to get us into the next phase.

Consequently, we must also consider measures that will be sufficient to usher us out of the economic stall that had to be enforced to ensure we minimize the health fallout.

In particular, we must search for ways to supplement past experience and knowledge, to which we automatically default in times of pressure and stress, with new knowledge.

We must address these issues whilst tending to and addressing current challenges; in short, we need to practise ambidexterity to enable us to continue to exploit our experiential knowledge base (which has proven so valuable in these troubling times), whilst simultaneously exploring new ways to generate economic and social activities to get us out of the inertia inadvertently created.

After noting that “telecommuting is the norm and consumers buy what they can online”, the questions posed by McKinsey, a leading strategy consultancy, suggest a “structural break” is underway, similar to those created in the wake of the Long Depression (1893) and the Great Depression (1930s): “When the crisis ends, will companies willingly spend large sums of money on big offices? Will employees accept the daily commute and consumers shop in physical stores? Will the economy return to business as usual?”

The pandemic has prompted permanent changes to the way we live, work and play, so there will not be a return to normalcy as many suggest, but the need to prepare for an alternative future, ‘the new normal’, starting now.

 

– Dr. Selwyn S. Seymour

University of Bedfordshire and SAY School of Business

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