COPING WITH THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC AND STAYING AFLOAT (1)
Fikunayo Sarumoh & Temple Amadi
It is no longer news that COVID 19 has brought the entire world to a standstill. The media is awash daily, with figures of new cases of carriers of the Coronavirus and the deaths occurring from it. The virus has obviously overwhelmed the strong and mighty nations of our world. This sad reality leaves the third world countries with a lot of thoughts, should there be a major outbreak as have been seen in Italy, America and Spain amongst other countries. This sad reality only calls for very strict measures to ensure a reduction in the spread of the virus. Meanwhile, there have been recorded cases of survivors whose status have moved from positive to negative. This leaves the world with hopes that there is indeed a chance to roll back the pandemic and most importantly the outbreak does not portend the end of our species.
One issue that is on the front burner is how businesses can stay afloat through these times. This issue is most important for businesses that are not in the essential service sector, as it is classified by the regulations issued by the Federal Government and other State Governments.
The consequence of the suspension of economic activities, on the micro level, would be most evident in loss of job. Companies around the world have resorted to downsizing of the workforce. As at today, about 5.2 million jobs have been lost in the US. We may not be precise about the figures with Nigeria (due to lack of accurate data) but we can rest assured that something similar is already happening, considering the already fragile nature of its economy. In the US, millions of people have filed for unemployment benefit over the past few weeks. With these and the economic strain on businesses, what is the way out? How can this obvious hardship be mitigated?
It is no doubt that the peculiar challenges posed by this COVID-19 outbreak is unprecedent and this has seen the Nigerian Government in the past days take some actions, which if well managed can reasonably mitigate the economic implications that would arise as a matter of course. Currently underway at the National Assembly, is the Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill which seeks to providing temporary relief to companies and individuals who are affected by policies of government aimed at curbing the spread of the virus. Part of the package proposed by the bill is the elimination of fiscal bottlenecks on importation of medical supplies, provide corporate tax rebates to encourage companies to maintain their payroll for the time-being, provision of moratorium on mortgage obligations for individuals, amongst other things. It has also been reported of the dialogue by the Federal Government and the electricity distribution companies on supplying power for a period of two months to the public without billing for same. Recently, as states have taken a cue from Ogun, Lagos and the FCT, and prescribed lockdown orders, relief materials have started rolling to families and persons who would need them most, although the sufficiency of these relief materials are uncertain.
All of these are good steps that if implemented and properly so, would no doubt help Nigerians to cope with the times. Although there are serious but genuine concerns on the adequacy and transparency of the mitigative efforts by the government, it is however in the best interest that government be encouraged and that officials take due responsibility. Where lapses are obvious, the private sector is encouraged to readily compliment government efforts as some are already doing.
Taking a cue from the above, private businesses can only be advised to reciprocate the effort of government by initiating policies that would mitigate their losses and that of their clients. In this regard, instead of layoffs, efforts can be made to renegotiate the terms of contract with employees on work modalities and pay cuts. It is without doubt that a lot of contracts that were already in operation prior to the lockdown orders would suffer, but it is hoped that should lawsuits ensue from those after this period, the Courts would take into consideration that the current circumstances is nothing but an act of God which could not have been reasonably contemplated, even where force majeure clauses are not contained in those contracts.
Conclusively, these are trying times for all of us and everyone is advised to put hands on deck to ensure that the fight against this monstrous virus is won to a standstill.