The ‘opening’ moment of truth is approaching

As the government continues with the plan to move towards the total lifting of the state of emergency in Namibia, a moment of truth for decision-makers is coming. Do we open faster to save parts of the economy or slow down? Namibia is not the only country dealing with this dilemma.

Business executives with access to high offices are screaming because their net worth of millions is dropping. Their lifestyles are threatened and they are closing ranks to stop the downward trend.

At the same time, these investors, business people and captains of industry are the engine that runs the economy. Without them, the economy cannot grow.

The loss of employees that have been trained paid for retention, and upskilled is damage to their businesses. Workers accepting half salary now, are actively on the market looking elsewhere.

And yet, if the doors of the country are flung open, there is no guarantee that business and productivity levels will rise instantly. But, an influx of people from high infection countries, will cause the infection level from the pandemic to increase in Namibia.

Our leaders are not as rambunctiously dismissive of the pandemic as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro. At the same time, there are those in power who believe the current steps taken during the pandemic are an over-reaction.

This unspoken point of view influences some of the decisions taken in responding to the situation. The recently announced actions to address the tourism sector and the push to allow German tourists in (due to that country’s effective pandemic response) speaks to an administration trying to walk a middle line when there is none.

It is either you open an allow foreigners in or you don’t.

There is no guarantee that if Namibia were open tourists tomorrow that any overseas tourists will come here. This pandemic is global. It is not just about what Namibia does or does not do. Tourists have anxiety about an outbreak happening when they are far from home and being stuck in a foreign country indefinitely. Worries about social spacing on airplanes, wearing a mask for a 10-hour flight, and other concerns are roadblocks a revival of tourism.

Will Namibians be blocked from travel to other countries as our cases rise? Those transiting on flights from Namibia through South Africa (where the disease is raging) may well face mandatory quarantines in their home country. All indications are that global tourism for 2020 is dead, whether Namibia opens on September 18th or not.

In the face of this situation, the government must take actions in the interest of all the people, not one sector or one group.

If Namibia opens prematurely, the country might displease donor countries who may stop assisting as their dictates on pandemic prevention are not being followed.

The country could open to allow whatever business possible to trickle in and save a few lucky companies and jobholders. Or, Namibia stays the course, or even extends the lockdown (if necessary) and suffer even more job losses, more business failures, damage to the economy and the wrath of thwarted industry lobbyists.

World Health Organization reports indicate that those who are marginalized, undernourished, living in close quarters, without adequate sanitation, and not under regular hospital/dental care are more susceptible to the pandemic.

The industry and government leaders pushing for a faster, less restrictive opening of the economy, are not in this high-risk group in Namibia. They are less likely to catch the virus. It is easier to be comfortable with acceptable infection risk levels when it is about someone else’s risk.

Tough calls are pending. The ‘opening’ moment of truth is approaching. All eyes are on the government to see which way they go.

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