As government announces plans to revise the national lockdown, a new phase in the Covid-19 pandemic is upon us. It is a time for hope but also a caution. The easing of lockdown will not spell a return to the old ‘normal’, nor will it be universal. The opening will take different shapes, with different countries, different regions, and different business sectors opening up in different ways and at differing speeds. The virus still lurks and the ability to contain its spread will dictate what happens next.
Hosted by the University of Johannesburg (UJ) on Wednesday, 13 May 2020 the first episode of UJ’s webinar series delved into life beyond Covid-19 and in particular the motivation and impact of varying national lockdown approaches.
The panel was facilitated by UJ’s Professor Alex Broadbent, Director of the Institute for the Future of Knowledge and consisted of Dr Joyce Banda, Former President of Malawi; Professor Johan Giesecke, an infectious disease epidemiologist, and a leading consultant on the Swedish model and Professor Sehaam Kahn, Microbiologist and UJ’s Dean of Health Sciences.
Her Excellency, Dr Banda said that while lockdown is implemented in some African countries, in Malawi it won’t work. “Over 40 percent in Malawi live in poverty. There is no way shutdowns will help such countries. If there was lockdown businesses would be closed. For example in my case, I run schools, so our teachers rely on school fees to be paid.”
“In Africa, people are going to suffer. I don’t know for how long it will take. Tragically Africa was the continent where the fastest growing economy in the world existed but now we have to go back and start all over again,” explained Dr Banda.
“We must learn from now onwards to have home grown solutions to problems like these, because when we look at the way Coronavirus has affected Africa, it’s completely different from the West. So we cannot copy and paste. Africa must come out with its own measures and we must begin to accept and appreciate ourselves and our initiatives.”
Prof Giesecke focused on what comes next – Contrasting with the “lockdowns” implemented in many countries. “I think a lockdown is a disaster anywhere but in rich countries it’s a disaster mainly in economics,” said Prof Giesecke.
“One thing I think politicians have missed completely is that they have instituted different restrictions for the lockdown in which they didn’t think of the effects of these lockdowns and secondly they never thought about the exit strategy. I can’t even think of any country in Europe that thought how we will get out of this.”
Prof Khan kicked off her discussion focusing on higher education and laying her foundation that under lockdown, South African universities have moved to online delivery of teaching. “Opinions differ as to how successful this is proving, and how sustainable it may be. Not all students are able to access online resources, and not all subjects are amenable to online teaching.”
“Disciplines requiring hands-on training, including some medical disciplines and laboratory sciences, are heavily impacted by lockdown. Nothing teaches reality like reality, hence we provide emergency remote learning for such cases.”
Prof Khan said the sector will need to think ahead, bringing together health expertise with a deep understanding nature of the university and its and societal role, in order to emerge strong from the chaos.
Each series will explore a different topic and provide new perspectives from experts in various fields. The next episode will be held on Wednesday, 20 May 2020.