Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Business Botswana says economy can’t withstand any more lockdowns

With COVID-19 cases rising, people in the Greater Gaborone zone fear that it is just a matter of time before they are locked down for the umpteenth time. However, a national body that represents the interests of the business community says that any more lockdowns would not be a good idea.

“No, we cannot,” is the answer that Business Botswana’s spokesperson, Patience Lebotse, gives when asked whether Botswana can withstand any more lockdowns.

With its president sitting in the Presidential COVID-19 Taskforce, Business Botswana is itself part of the machinery that has been put in place to deal with the pandemic. Lebotse says that Business Botswana (which is also part of the High-level Consultative Council which is chaired by the state president) offers advice to the government and the Taskforce on issues pertaining to the economy. She adds that in most cases, such advice is taken into consideration when decisions that affect the country are made. From that, one can surmise that the Business Botswana president would have advised the Taskforce that the national economy cannot withstand any more lockdowns.

Indeed the World Health Organisation has also recognised the damage that lockdowns are doing to national economies and has officially communicated that message. The situation is somewhat paradoxical because while economies need to stay open in order to give people an opportunity to earn a living, that has to happen under the right public health circumstances. As examples from around the world show, an economy opened up regardless of the COVID-19 situation will itself suffer badly.

If lockdowns are not an option, what would be the alternative?

Lebotse recommends “widespread community testing” and rigorous enforcement of public health in order to contain spread of the pandemic.

“Furthermore, public education is important in educating Batswana on how to co-exist and live in the midst of COVID-19,” she adds. “They need to be made aware of how to protect themselves and their families against COVID-19.”

Community testing, which WHO has recommended, has indeed been cited as one of the main public health measures that the government would embark on when the country came out the April/May lockdown. However, that plan was ditched in favour of contact tracing before the exercise even began. While the Taskforce has sought to tout the benefits of contract tracing, the fact of the matter is that WHO stresses the importance of “testing, testing, testing” to fight the pandemic. Whatever its benefits, contract tracing hasn’t covered a wide enough section of the population and country. Beyond being valid, the point about enforcing containment measures is one that can’t be stressed enough because the rate at which the mask-wearing law is contravened is egregiously high and the arrest rate disproportionately low.

Sunday Standard’s theory that the national economy can’t function properly if Gaborone, that economy’s nerve-centre, is persistently being locked down. The question put to Business Botswana was whether it makes business sense to lock down Gaborone and leave the rest of the country open for business.

“There are businesses elsewhere that do not rely on Gaborone,” responded Lebotse, adding that as long as companies that have operations outside Gaborone or support non-Gaborone operations can function, detrimental impact on the national economy will be minimised.  

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The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.