How Do We Prepare for the 2nd Wave?
Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, October 16
The whole world is preparing for the second wave of the coronavirus epidemic. This does not mean that a second wave is inevitable; rather, that states should prepare for the virus to strike back and do everything in their power to prepare. In Egypt, this conversation has been overlooked. But it’s time that our country prepared for the implications of a second wave – particularly, in our case, the economic ones. What is clear is that during the first wave, Egypt thankfully performed much better than other countries. Even if we assume that the number of cases in the country was actually higher than declared due to the fact that not everyone got tested or reported their symptoms, we fared fairly well. Granted, every COVID-related death is a tragedy and an unnecessary death. But Egypt, as a whole, managed to maintain relatively low mortality rates across the country. On the other hand, the economic repercussions of the first wave were, and still are, severe. Egypt did not manage this aspect of the pandemic well. The losses suffered in tourism, entertainment, nonessential goods and services, and private transportation, among sectors, are insurmountable. On top of that, there is the inevitable decrease in tax revenues due to the slowdown in economic activity. All of these effects could easily be repeated in a second wave unless we prepare properly. But the old mechanism used by the government will not prevail again. Neither the imposition of curfews nor the closing of stores and shops would be possible in light of high unemployment. Further, the government has no resources to support the unemployed or continue covering its deficit. My suggestion, therefore, is that we prepare for the second wave in three tracks. The first is recognizing that the possibility of closing public and commercial activities is almost nonexistent – unless the second wave is more powerful than we imagine – and making every effort to raise awareness to preventive methods. In addition, the government should help workplaces, construction sites, government departments, schools, universities and places of worship set up the right infrastructure to allow for social distancing while maintaining normal activity. The second track is the completion of the efforts that began in the wake of the first wave to improve the technological infrastructure and transfer all activity that can happen remotely to electronic transactions. The third track relates to the business climate. Given the high unemployment, the government must help everyone who still has the desire and ability to work. This will not be achieved by amending laws, changing regulations or forming committees. Rather, it requires a political decision at the highest levels that forces government agencies to ease restrictions, bypass minor violations and reduce the complexity of procedures. I do not call for tax evasion crimes to be overlooked, construction permits dispensed with or fraud to be normalized, but there is a minimum level of restrictions, obstacles and minor violations that only obstruct activity, open the gates of corruption and hinder small investors. We must make it easy to work and consume. Perhaps experts are wrong and a second wave will not happen. Either way, Egypt should be prepared. – Ziad Bahaa El-Din (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)