Currently, we are living in a highly connected world where information is shared freely and instantly, courtesy of the Internet services. In the same world, the COVID -19 pandemic is consuming our time and attention so by now, most of us know that the first cases of pneumonia of “unknown cause” in Wuhun , China, were first reported to the World Health Organisation on the 31st December 2019. Six months later, WHO is informing us that there have been 10 million cases and 500,000 deaths from COVID-19 pandemic and warns us that the worst is yet to come.
Nobody saw this coming and nobody knows when it will end despite the available huge advances in medicine , science and technology compared to the times of the most deadly pandemic of the Spanish flue of January 1918 to December 1920.
We are used to enjoying some freedoms- tagged with certain responsibilities and living our lives within these freedoms. We also try to do our best to bring order and predictability in our environment. But then COVID -19 Corona virus has turned almost everything on its head and the majority of us if not all hate this uncertainty of things. At the most being uncertain about the next six hours or so!
First and foremost, the COVID -19 pandemic is a health crisis and now it has also become an economic crisis worldwide. The official World Trade Organization website : wto.org predicts double-digit decline in trade volumes in all the regions of the world this year. This is because the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted economic activity and life worldwide. All governments have been hugely focused on managing the pandemic to reduce the spread of the virus in the communities and to save people’s lives. To some degree they were also struggling to reduce the effect of the pandemic on their economies. Four months into the pandemic, it is still wreaking havoc and nobody has any idea when it will end or be brought under control to enable us to go on living relatively normal lives.
During the Lockdown, non-essential services were shut down, the movement of people by road, rail, air and sea were reduced to the minimum or halted. The demand for oil and gas hugely declined during this period forcing the price of oil to drop to its lowest level in thirty years! The transport disruption has had a huge impact on the movement of people and the flow of goods in the supply chain. Members of the supply chain were unable to provide products/services consistently and on time.
In my local area within the city ,the streets were almost empty, hotels and restaurants were closed and all schools and tertiary institutions and the international airport and the border immigration checkpoints were all closed. We were forced to look for alternatives where possible.
- People wearing face masks walked or cycled to buy food and medicines.
- The fresh food vendors had to sleep at the markets-very inconvenient and far from the normal.
- A few people worked Online from home, held virtual meeting.
- Virtual Gatherings/ Virtual events: using video or audio and text to link up Online. A few people celebrated weddings, mourned death and attended virtual funerals while churches and mosques organized virtual services. I had the privilege to attend a virtual church service for a relative , a nurse who died of COVID -19 in USA in June and another in the United Kingdom. Churches and mosques in Uganda have been organizing services on the television and radio. The biggest challenge with these virtual events in Uganda, is the unstable Internet connection and its slow speed. It affects the inclusion and the engagement of the invited participants.
- Some big companies have partnered with some popular Kampala DJs to organize Dance Party nights for “the young and restless” on television and radio on Fridays and Saturdays.
- Online shopping – Jumia Uganda was found well-positioned for this service. You can buy food and beverages, groceries, clothing, footwear, mobile phones, electronics, kitchen appliances, furniture and health beauty products from Uganda’s biggest online mall.
- The Uganda Electoral Commission responsible for organizing the 2021 general elections is talking of contestants campaigning on radios and televisions instead of holding campaign rallies in response to the Ministry of Health guidelines on physical distancing.
- Education has continued on radios and televisions and in newspapers for the few children whose parents have radios and televisions or can afford buying newspapers for the pull-outs.
- Hospital ambulances have continued to transport emergency cases to the hospitals. The Ministry of health set up centres for testing, treating and following up contacts of COVID-19 Corona virus infection. It has continued to train health workers and to educate the public about the infection. The regular updates on the state of the problem in our country and elsewhere has helped us to understand the disease and how to protect ourselves and others. The health workers have done a commendable job in a tough environment.
For the majority of us, we followed the Ministry of health safety and health guidelines and stayed at home to keep safe. Seventy five days of confinement in one place was tough on all of us and we waited with bated breath for the gradual relaxation of the restrictions. I think that the people who were hurt most by this inevitable pandemic lockdown are the ordinary men and women working in the informal sector of the city. The Uganda Bureau of Statistics 2016 statistics indicated that up to 80 percent of the working age population (14-64) is engaged in the informal business sector. These are low income groups trading and providing services on the streets of Kampala while a few work from home. We call them street vendors, others are in welding or transport people.
They depend on this daily income to support their families. All school children are at home with their families and on average an ordinary Ugandan woman bears six children in her life. All these street vendors have had no income for more than three months. I cannot bring myself to understand what they are going through during this COVID-19 pandemic.
I only hope that our policy makers have already started planning for the post- COVID-19 pandemic strong and socially inclusive recovery.
No doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives forever- from the way we get together and relate to one another and our work-life choices.
At this moment in time, the majority of us have accepted the COVID-19 crisis for what it is and are challenged to look for new ways of safely co-existing with the virus.
According to Charles Darwin ‘s Origin of Species, “ It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest ; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”
While the health workers are busy taking care of the sick and taking measures to protect people’s lives, Medical researchers are racing against time to develop a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19 Corona virus, the engineers and IT experts are rising to the challenge of creating opportunities for all and safe and user-friendly options for doing ordinary things.
The engineers are using available data to design safe, reliable transport systems of the future. Some systems have to be sacrificed while others like rail transport are to be given priority. IT experts are innovating and creating technology which will advance our quality of life.
We have a local proverb when loosely translated says: There is a gem hidden in the tough challenge you are going through now, you only need to dig deeper to find it.
The uncertainty caused by the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic will hang over us for a while but if the regions of the world collaborated, worked together collectively and made coordinated efforts, we can aggressively change strategies and win in this new environment.
The doctor in me is extremely happy that due to digital technology, the new information about the management of COVID-19 infection is being shared instantly worldwide and has resulted in greater chances of survival of the infected cases.
Have you identified some areas in your life where you have to do things differently to safely exist in this new environment?