Ideas & Debate

Navigating impact of Covid-19 in real-time


Nurses in protective gears at Mbagathi Hospital during the launch of an isolation and treatment centre for the new coronavirus dubbed COVID-19, in Nairobi on March 6, 2020. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG

We are living through very difficult times of a Covid-19 pandemic. I run a small consultancy with employees and all I can think about is how we can keep the business running and pay salaries when it is manifestly clear that business is going to grind slowly to a halt as the economy takes a beating.

I have seen many friends and acquaintances on social media posting about their own office and business closures already, with only seven identified Covid-19 patients as at the time of writing this. Many have already experienced cancellations from clients and significantly reduced sales. A large media group just announced massive job redundancies, which must have already been under serious consideration before this pandemic hit and could be unrelated to it

I loved history when I was in school. Reading how the world has been shaped over centuries through war, industrial revolutions, religion, human rights as well as shifts in demographics and populace has always been fascinating.

The beauty about reading books is that one is comfortably seated and distantly attached to such events, having nothing but the luxury of applying intellectual analysis on the cause and the subsequent effect of these events.

The last one week has left me despondent because we are all smack in the middle of a global event that will have massive ramifications on every single worldwide citizen.

There is no luxury of detachedly watching it from the sidelines, rather, we are having to make decisions that will have an impact on lives. From whether or not to attend a critical social function, how employees should work remotely if possible, how clients can be serviced virtually, how non Covid-19 related illnesses can be treated without hospital visits and so on, we are having to make multiple decisions simultaneously and pray that these are the right ones.

Over and above all of that is having to battle with the differences of opinion on how serious this is. One person I spoke to last week was extremely relaxed about this, after all, they opined, it’s just like a very serious bout of influenza and can be treated as such. No need to panic, they said, there are more serious things to worry about like HIV and insane bodaboda drivers.

Another person I spoke to has taken the completely opposite view; this is Armageddon and we all need to build wartime bunkers, hunker down and hibernate until this storm blows over. My greatest challenge personally last week was having to deal with my two daughters who now have to homeschool.

As the school closure was sudden, I had no idea that I would need computer equipment for all of them. We have one laptop for use domestically, but being in different classes and schools, each of them were now required to check in to class virtually, and there the fight started. The younger one was adamant that she cannot use an iPad to log into zoom as the icons of the other students that were attending the class were too small and she needed to see their faces.

Turns out that the first ten minutes of the virtual class consisted of giddying screams of happiness at seeing friends online and shouts of hi! She then required me to help her with her school work. She’s nine years old. I could navigate through the music and English papers, but anyone who knows me well will tell you that mathematics has never ever been my friend. When it came to the mathematics papers, “ask your older sister,” was my mind-boggled response at the end of the day.

I fled to the office the following day, having told all my employees to work from home in the interest of health safety. I couldn’t bear for my older daughter to bring her physics papers with their electrodes, neutrons and what-you-may-confoundedly-call-it. Being alone in the office is practicing responsible social distance, is it not?

I am open to be judged for my utter and complete realisation that I have delegated academic learning to teachers as they are far better placed to lead this noble educational cause. I am not ashamed to admit there are things I can do, like impart morals and social values, and things I cannot do like patiently answer questions.

If we survive this, I know that the lessons I am taking out from this epochal period is that teachers are the most unrecognised heroes on God’s green earth. We will come out of this stronger as mankind, with new ways of working and educating that might end up reducing the costs of service delivery. If anything, the future history books will tell us that were it not for the third industrial revolution called technology, we would have crashed and burnt through this pandemic.