As of today March 23, the African Center for Disease Control reported that the COVID-19 virus has been reported in 41 African countries and the total number of confirmed cases is 1198.
African governments have responded to the outbreak by emphasising social distancing and ordering closure of schools, postponing public events that involve large gatherings, all in an attempt to mitigate the outbreak. Although, social distancing is a privilege only a few Africans can afford.
Given the poverty rate in many African countries, a complete lockdown is impossible because many Africans have to earn every day just to eat, and even that is a dream for many of whom live below the poverty line.
African governments are clearly not in a position to offer financial support to citizens to meet their needs in a scenario where all business operations are shut down.
Tellingly, what we might see is a continuation of business operation, but at a much slower pace. As a result, businesses in Africa are not likely to be shut-down like we see in countries in Europe, Asia, and North America, but they certainly can’t avoid disruption.
Globalisation combined with the backdrop of SARS, MERS, and EBOLA epidemics, means well-run businesses should have pre-existing plans to address epidemics as part of its risk mitigation strategies, especially as the impacts of climate change make climate shocks more frequent, and increases the likelihood of epidemics. Therefore, general strategies that all businesses can deploy to mitigate risks include:
Digitalising business-to-business, and business-to-customer processes as much as possible.
Staying close to customers is pivotal to successfully navigate disruptions. Businesses should concern themselves with maintaining their relationships with their core customers and anticipate their behavior. For instance, exploring new ways to improve their customer experiences such as self-service and the introduction of digital channels that allow customers to engage with the business during outbreaks and mass quarantine.
Remodeling the work environment.
Already we know that workers in open office spaces take more sick days than people in enclosed offices: because proximity – such as within 6 feet of one another – facilitates the spread of communicable diseases. Providing gloves and waiving the co-pay element are some health incentives that will encourage employees to show up at the office.
Supply chain stabilisation
Businesses need to define the extent and likely duration of their supply-chain exposure to areas that are experiencing community transmission. Even though China is slowly going back to work, and the number of new cases that are reported in China is declining, the COVID-19 is on a world tour. New cases are rising fast in places like South Korea, and Europe, where several high tech parts in the global supply chain are manufactured. As such, companies should consider rationing critical parts, gaining higher priority from their suppliers, pre-booking air-freight capacity and, of course, supporting supplier restarts.
As a business owner or executive, it is important to stay positive: especially in times of stress, to keep your head, when everyone else is losing theirs – not so much in terms of making a bad decision.
Everyone makes bad decisions, but to avoid making a series of bad decisions seek quality information and use your own judgment to determine who could be a provider of this – if you think the local authority or health department is unreliable, then find external sources to help with insights to make informed decisions according to your own circumstances, carefully considering each option: methodically go through each one, weigh up the pros & cons, decide accordingly.
Ovigwe Eguegu is a Nigerian analyst and writer specialising in international affairs. He is currently Foreign Relations Editor at The Southern African Times where he writes on geopolitics, diplomacy, and security Africa; while paying close attention to the Africa policy of global actors such as China, the European Union, United States of America, the United Kingdom, and Russia. Ovigwe has appeared on Al Jazeera English and Arise TV on several occasions to discuss international security and African affairs.