AFTER a period of relaxation and complacence on battling Covid-19, Zimbabweans were dragged, kicking and screaming, amid shock and disbelief, into yet another lockdown this week.
While lockdowns have been one of the strategic ways of combating the coronavirus, as they limit people’s movement and spread of infection, they have always had unintended consequences. Lockdown strategies help flatten the epidemic curve, but exacerbate the recession curve.
A range of stimulus packages and other fiscal interventions have sought to flatten the recession curve thereafter.
Maintaining the balance between saving lives and saving livelihoods is one of the challenges of lockdowns. It is dependent on the effectiveness of government policies to flatten the recession curve, and the resilience of the public to flatten the epidemic curve, even when out of lockdown.
Lifting lockdown measures too early always risks a significant second wave of infections, deaths and associated economic damage. But if the government delays lifting the lockdown, the economic consequences could be more severe as many businesses may not survive.
The latter is seen by some as less risky as increased government debt required to support families and businesses is not expected to have major effects on long-term inflation and expenditure, but the balance is delicate.
This is the question most Zimbabweans are grappling with after the renewed lockdown. Everyone is asking the difficult question whose answer is as shifty as quicksand: While we need the lockdown to contain Covid-19, how about our livelihoods?
What is particularly troublesome is that this second lockdown comes at the beginning of January, a month notorious for its financial hardships at household level. People had barely emerged from what must surely be the most dreary festive season in living memory when the government dropped the lockdown bombshell.
At this time of the year, people are just broke. Worse in this economic crisis.
Although most people agree Covid-19 must be tackled, the hasty government response has elevated a disaster to a catastrophe. Actions of this regime sometimes defy logic. The idea behind decreeing a lockdown is to slow down the spread of the disease, while strengthening the capacity of the health delivery system.
In other words, a lockdown alone without fixing the hospitals and health delivery system, equipping the facilities, providing protective paraphernalia, medicines and ensuring economic interventions to protect livelihoods, especially among the vulnerable and poor communities, is not effective.
Government claims it has provided money to mitigate the impact of the lockdown, but how many businesses and people have actually received that? Where is the money? Who got what and when? The reality on the ground is scary. The pandemic is overrunning government. The hospitals, frontline health workers and support services are being overwhelmed.
Government officials have admitted as much.
Yet daily authorities lecture citizens about how to behave and arrest the poor. That is not what people want. Citizens want to hear how the government is going to balance the lockdown and economic imperatives.
How lives could be saved, while livelihoods are also protected. That is the most important issue. Not what ministers say daily, warning people that going outdoors is a matter of life-and-death. Of course, sitting at home without food for the unemployed, poor and vulnerable communities is also a matter of life-and-death.
The authorities must put on their thinking caps, and not just issue lockdown orders and useless statements. What is the plan and strategy to save lives and livelihoods, or the economy?