A virus-stricken world is now coming to grips with the prospect that the new coronavirus might never go away, with top virologists predicting the COVID-19 outbreak will turn from a pandemic to an endemic situation.
In any case, it’s certain now that COVID-19 will be with us for the foreseeable future. It has reached every continent and virtually every country – and a powerful vaccine that can prevent the virus is nowhere on the horizon.
Therefore, the debate that needs to play out in the international community is not whether countries need to choose between lives and livelihoods, but how to simultaneously preserve both and reopen the global economy. That’s the only way to partially mitigate the looming economic catastrophe that threatens to plunge almost every major economy into a deep recession.
A welcome sign is that cases of coronavirus infections have begun to fall in some of the hotspots and countries have started to lift restrictions on movements.
It’s essential to remember that the world cannot afford to treat public and economic health as two mutually exclusive polarities – that would be a false dichotomy, as observed by the WHO. The economic fallout will then devastate more people than the virus can ever do.
The way forward needs new thinking and innovation that will help sustain commerce and businesses without compromising health or safety, even as a global quest to develop vaccines and cures continue in tandem.
History has shown us that it’s possible.
Recurring pandemics forced countries in the 19th century to adopt new public health and sanitation measures – and also led to the introduction of dedicated pedestrian sidewalks and affordable housing. Such social investments ensured that crowded cities became safe places for co-habitation and conducting business.
Reality is showing us that the same is possible now.
In the UAE, from enforcing a two-people per elevator rule in Dubai Metro stations to a new concept of drive-in cinema to the reopening of the iconic Dubai Gold Souq with a 30 per cent cap on capacity, commercial entities and public infrastructures have been reactivated with stringent safety measures in place.
But no matter how carefully balanced these safety measures are, no government can control the pandemic if the public throw caution to the wind. Whether stepping out for shopping, work or the occasional (and much-needed) leisure breaks, it’s vital for everyone to remember that it’s the restrictions on movements that have ended, not the pandemic. Without fulfilling our public responsibilities and adhering to rapidly-evolving regulations, we will end up damaging our economies more than our health.