By Princewill Ekwujuru
As countries are continuously caught in-between the hard decision of easing lockdowns in bid to open up socio-economic activities and flattening the Coronavirus infection curve, the sad reality the world may live with for the rest of human existence is the disclosure that the pandemic may never be eradicated.
According to the World Health Organisation, trying to predict when the virus would disappear is a mirage even if a vaccine is found, WHO emergencies director, Dr Mike Ryan, warned at a virtual media briefing.
“It is important to put this on the table: this virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities, and this virus may never go away,” he warned, stating that HIV/AIDS, measles and other diseases have not gone despite the development of more than 100 potent vaccines.
WHO epidemiologist, Maria van Kerkhove, spoke in like manner: “We need to get into the mindset that it is going to take some time to come out of this pandemic.” In the past, the Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, had stated it was still possible to control the virus but with effort.
A group of Chinese viral and medical researchers further buttressed this fear, saying the Coronavirus will not be eradicated. With China still recording asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 every day despite bringing its epidemic under control, the disclosure by the scientists has added to the growing consensus around the world that the pathogen may return like SARS and other flu.
According to Jin Qi, director, Institute of Pathogen Biology at China’s top medical research institute, the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, “This is very likely to be an epidemic that co-exists with humans for a long time, becomes seasonal and is sustained within human bodies.”
To discerning minds, the stark reality is that COVID-19 may have unwittingly become a permanent part of our daily lives. If this is the case, the wisdom that the global health body and experts have passed to African countries, in particular, is for government and the people to do everything possible to contain and control community transmission of the virus.
In Nigeria for instance, this advice appears too important to be ignored in view of our health facilities and frontline medical personnel are already over-stretched amidst the escalating rate of confirmed cases and fatalities daily. Two, the weight of the socio-economic cost of Coronavirus on our fragile national economy including the subnational economies and the general wellbeing of the majority of Nigerians are crushing.
There have also been reported massive job losses as a result of generally low productivity across key sectors including aviation, hospitality, manufacturing and the all-important agriculture. People’s purchasing power has also been adversely impacted. Experts including economists, investment and policy analysts have raised concerns that more negatives could result unless balanced actions are taken to contain the spread of the virus, which is a major threat to the economy.
Instructively, the paradox that we face is that the entire world is indeed in a battle against securing the future – the continued existence of humanity – from a ravaging pandemic that has become a global common enemy. And the picture of stark realities painted by WHO and experts is quite worrisome as Dr Tedros warned that there was no guaranteed way of easing restrictions without triggering a second wave of infections.
“Many countries would like to get out of the different measures, but our recommendation is still the alert at any country should be at the highest level possible,” he stated. Dr Ryan even sounded it louder: “There is some magical thinking going on that lockdowns work perfectly and that unlocking lockdowns will go great. Both are fraught with dangers.”
Be that as it may, the hard choice that we have to make is between the proverbial devil and the deep blue sea, and the obvious less risky option here is the commonsense adoption of physical and social distancing as a new normal. This is critical because contact with infected persons is the potent channel for transmission of the virus.
Also, the fact that asymptomatic carriers can spread the virus undetected makes it inevitable for government and businesses to discourage, and if possible, enforce stricter measures that ensure total elimination of physical and social distancing for everyone. But, this may not be feasible as likely breach of fundamental human rights could pose a hurdle.
As the government is set to freeze socio-economic activities and everyone in on the set-go for a blast again, the critical action that we must take is the adoption of a new culture by individuals (consumers of goods and services) and businesses (as producers). Underling, this action is our embrace of a new culture that promotes self-discipline and consciousness to discourage large gatherings in any form, and ultimately produce the expected positive outcome: flattening person-to-person transmission of COVID-19.
Essentially, brick and mortar shopping in places such as malls, supermarkets, open stalls and markets tops the list of platforms that encourage large gatherings of people with the potential to increase COVID-19 community transmission. The other is brick and mortar banking halls and other physical locations where people handle cash payment or transactions, which is also a common practice in our traditional open markets.
If the government is desirous of enforcing people’s compliance with the WHO-established protocol on physical and social distancing as well as motivating people to take personal responsibility that can reduce the spread of Coronavirus in the country, it is important that the people’s culture and business culture that requires physical contact must start giving way to more digitally innovative ways of doing things.
Part of the drastic measures being recommended to the government to reduce community transmission is to tame the monster from the source – curtailing person-to-person contact. This need again brings to the fore the role of e-Commerce and supply/logistics operators like Jumia and others to continue to be the key drivers of social distancing and business continuity for MSMEs as they did during the weeklong lockdowns.
Jumia, in particular, bolstered safe distancing through JumiaPay that enabled consumers to make online purchases, orders and payment for goods without any physical contact with anyone. Through Jumia contactless delivery, its agents and riders in personal protective equipment delivered those essentials such as groceries, water, toiletries and pharmaceuticals to people who were observing lockdowns in their homes under strict set safety protocol.
Jumia marketplace and logistics also effectively bridged the supply and logistics gap occasioned by movement restrictions and surge in demand for essentials during the lockdowns. The company provided an efficient distribution channel for brands and sellers at a time when offline channels were disrupted while helping consumers to keep safe and many MSMEs staying afloat.
It would be recalled that, during lockdowns and partial shutdowns across Nigeria, there was a significant shift in consumer behaviour from traditional retailing and payment to online transactions, thanks to e-Commerce operators like Jumia. Through Jumia innovative partnership with manufacturers of household essentials, a number of MSMEs also moved online. Significant adoption of e-payment transactions enabled by JumiaPay also buoyed the economy.
Jumia in its first-quarter 2020 financials underscored the potential of e-Commerce and logistics/supply operators to reflate the economy by reporting that e-payment/digital payment adoption opportunities can increase demand for brands, put essentials in the hands of more people while they are keeping safe and maintaining social distancing, and also help sellers to sell more and faster especially through Jumia digital omnichannel.
It disclosed further that more brands and sellers were eager to join the Jumia marketplace by Jumia cross-border. Strong demand from offline convenience retailers to join the Jumia on-demand platform and increasing advertisers’ interest for online channels were also reported as consumption shifted towards online.
“We believe the COVID-19 pandemic proves that e-Commerce has a key role to play in helping consumers safely access essential goods and providing an efficient distribution channel for brands and sellers, at a time when offline channels are disrupted. We are more than ever confident about the relevance of Jumia and the gradual adoption of e-Commerce by both consumers and sellers,” Jeremy Hodara and Sacha Poignonnec, Co-Chief Executive Officers of Jumia, said.
Retrospecting the 2003 SARS epidemic, the survival of e-Commerce giant Alibaba was initially threatened due to lack of understanding of the role of e-Commerce as a lifeline in any humanitarian crisis. But not perturbed, the company’s development team worked from its founder Jack Ma’s apartment and innovated a consumer-facing e-commerce platform, which boosted home delivery of essentials to millions of people amidst increased online demand for those quarantined at home. The Chinese government soon recognised Alibaba’s intervention as a watershed moment for the country.
All of these are proofs that, as we unlock the economy for full activities, the imperative of full adoption of technology is now more relevant in our fast-changing world. Digital transformation, of which e-Commerce operation is a major pillar, is now more fundamental. With the disruptions brought by Coronavirus, and giving the warnings by WHO and experts that the virus may never be eradicated, embracing a new reality and outlook on the future, though it might seem painful initially, is critical.
For us to consolidate the gains of measures taken so far to contain and case-manage COVID-19 infections, adoption of and adaptability to online marketplace by producers and service providers, increased online shopping experience and online payments culture are important behavioural changes and new realities that individuals and businesses must come to terms with. Doing so is our best less risky option to stem community transmission and mitigate the adverse socio-economic impact of this damaging virus.