Deep impact of Covid-19

There is probably no one on the social media who does not know by now that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic – a disease actively spreading to multiple countries across the globe.

From the get go, Malaysia’s health ministry has worked hard to ensure that both the virus and the contagion of fear are under control.

Even more amazing was the fact that the national health response continued unabated amidst the political uncertainty and change of government. A large part of this was due to the preparedness of the health ministry and the health system to face such an outbreak. When it did occur, they were ready and could hit the ground running.

While the health sector is managing to hold its own, and perhaps may even emerge stronger once the Covid-19 outbreak has been resolved, the same cannot be said of many other sectors which have been devastated.

These sectors have never really taken into account even the remotest possibility of such an infectious disease outbreak occurring despite having gone through SARS less than 20 years ago. They were unprepared, and are now paying a heavy price.

Across all sectors, the largest disruptor to productivity and the financial implications this causes has been the closing down of offices or businesses due to staff needing to be quarantined at home.

Few local businesses are geared to cope with this simply because they were not far sighted enough to have put in systems that enable staff to work from home.

Truth be told, despite all these statements of “we are asking (our) employees to work from home,” there has been quite a lot of resistance from employers to this.

Many are reluctant to have their employees quarantined as they are concerned on whether their employees (and businesses) can function when run remotely.

These concerns are valid, simply because they did not transition their businesses (and mindsets) in line with technological changes.

The hospitality, entertainment and tourism industries are also industries that have suffered greatly from this outbreak. Though it is true that disease outbreaks are hard to predict, some believe that such a great effort to cater to foreign tourists without strategically being engaged with the domestic tourism market is contributing to this in no small part.

Robust efforts to build and sustain a vibrant domestic tourist market would have ensured that when foreign tourists “dry up”, locals would have at least helped in tiding things over. This includes entire swathes of newer shopping malls with restaurants catering only to Chinese tourists, which now are devoid of any life.

Interestingly, quite a lot of people in the manufacturing sector have also run into hurdles, partly because of the fact that they have exclusively sourced material from the one country in which they were able to get the cheapest price. Many factories are running on half-shifts or even have rest days because they cannot produce at capacity due to a lack of raw materials.

From a risk-mitigation perspective, it may have been unwise to entirely rely on a single source for raw materials, but as we are finding out, hindsight is always 20/20 once the expensive lessons have been learnt.

The worst hit sector by far is of course the travel industry.

Every day we read of how various airlines are either putting staff on non-paid leave or ceasing operations altogether.

Could they have strategised to prepare for such a calamitous event better? Or at least to minimise some of the financial impact to the staff at the bottom of the hierarchy, who really are the ones who ultimately suffer the most repercussions.

Of course, airlines are nothing compared to those working in the sea-borne travel industry. I can’t even think about the economic plight of all those people working in industries related to cruise ships let alone those who work on board these luxury liners.

After this calamitous misadventure involving various cruise ships, would anyone really be brave enough to get on a “cruise to nowhere”?

Where are these people going to work? Will they even have jobs anymore? What about the companies that employ them? Will they go into financial ruin?

I was walking by in a hospital and heard two patients talking together as Al-Jazeera carried the WHO director-general’s press conference announcing the pandemic.

What struck me was what one of them shared with the other, “Right now, we’re all thinking about whether we get the virus and die or not, but when all this is over, we’ll have to pick up the pieces and that’s when we’ll start thinking it’s better that we should have got the disease and died. Cheaper and less painful.”

What that patient said may have been more a doomsday prediction than anything else, but it does strike a resonating note with some part of reality.

Just like the movie, the Deep Impact of Covid-19 may be felt for years if not decades after the dust has settled and the pandemic deemed to have ended.

Only then will we able to begin assessing the financial, social and economic impact of it.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.