Efforts to contain the coronavirus have worsened the social and economic divisions that already exist in Namibian society. This is evidenced by the fact that the most vulnerable groups who also happen to be at the bottom of the socio-economic strata are not able to respond to the state of emergency in the same way as the middle and higher-income groups.
From the get-go, when the state of emergency was declared by his Excellency Dr Hage Geingob on the 16 March 2020, there was a rush by those who could afford to stockpile on food and necessities in anticipation of a lockdown.
As experienced in other countries that were first affected by the global pandemic, the panic buying, however, could only be afforded by a few, while the majority, although wanting to, could simply not afford to stockpile on the necessities for themselves and their families.
These are the glaring evidence of inequality within Namibia, which cannot be denied and which need to be addressed once the virus has subsided. The peril by which our people live cannot go attended any further. Livelihood necessities such as water, sanitation, hygiene, food security and living environments form the most basic of needs that should be urgently addressed. We all have a part to lay towards such realisations.
Global economists envisage an economic downturn in all countries that have been hit by the virus; however, on a personal level, the economic impact of the virus on the pockets of the lowest income earners have already begun to manifest. We welcome the move by BoN that saw repo rates down by 100 basis points. Arguably this translates to about a N$1 billion back in the pockets of people.
Piecemeal workers and those who work for a weekly wage, such as the gardeners, domestics and construction workers, have already been asked to stay at home by their employers as a response to the government’s call for social distancing.
The fundamental question of how these workers will survive without an income needs to be addressed by all relevant authorities in the country because the response to corona should not only be medical but should also have a socio-economic dynamic.
The United Kingdom has offered to provide social safety net in the form of a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which has been set up to pay 80% of salaries for workers who have been temporarily laid off due to the outbreak of the virus.
That government has also agreed to aid tenants in the payment of rent in these trying times.
South Africa has followed suit in offering relief to Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s) that will see a decline in sales and income as a result of the virus.
The Namibian government should endeavour to emulate these socio-economic responses by providing similar relief packages to those vulnerable members of our society who will be hard hit by the current chain of events. We trust this package will translate to savings industries and is also inclusive of workers. This serves as the very first quantum task that our new finance minister has to deliver and we are keeping a close eye.
Coronavirus, if cases increase, as they have in all affected countries, will provide a real test for Namibia’s public healthcare system, which provides health services to the majority of the population.
These are the harsh realities we have to face and which will propel us to shape future health policy in a direction that safeguards and prepare the nation for outbreaks of this magnitude. Fast- forward post-corona government development policy should look at developing those sectors which will create a buffer to deal with similar outbreaks in the future. This needs to serve as a learning curve and that more realistic measures are in place.
The provision of access to decent housing with proper sanitation. The informal settlements in the country are high-risk areas and the government will not be able to contain the spread of this virus if it finds hosts in these communities. Not only from corona but from more lasting diseases such as Hepatitis.
Having an equal spread of modern health facilities across the country to relax the demand for emergency services at the Katutura state hospital which is currently overwhelmed with patients and under-resourced with staff and medical supplies.
And using the countries resources for the benefit of the majority by ensuring that all the basic needs of society are catered for.
This entails having the Namibian constitution as the guiding document in all government policy in terms of addressing citizens housing needs, access to water and sanitation, safety and security in the form of paid employment and education for all.
As a nation, we have to commit to addressing these basics as they are the foundation upon which great nations are built.