Fatigue should not be an excuse for rushed reopening of economy

Grade Four pupils during a lesson at Kimonio Primary School in Mariashoni, Nakuru County in this photo taken on January 5, 2021. This is one of the schools in the area that were recently vandalised by unknown people when the residents were being evicted from Eastern Mau by the government.

Photo credit: John Njoroge | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Lifting restrictions and opening up arguably sooner than we should will inevitably be at a price.
  • The first and most burning question that arises is are all schools ready or not?

We are all fatigued by the roller coaster months since early last year. We have been tested often beyond our limits and in different ways. They have taken their toll on us mentally, physically, socially and financially.

In some cases we have become exhausted. In others we have become impatient and that has led to responses which often are reactive and expressions of frustration.

What is apparent is that there may be some light at the end of the tunnel. But what is not yet clear is how much, when and how soon.

The mass application of a Covid -19 vaccine is on the horizon but that horizon is likely to be some time ahead as the logistics of such an exercise are daunting to the extent of being formidable.

First there has to be the manufacturing of the vaccine after it has passed the multiplicity of tests that need to be undertaken. Remember the supply chain will consist of several brands of vaccines. Some will be more available than others but not always affordable by most. The more affordable are likely to take longer by the sheer volumes and number involved: vaccines, syringes, skilled personnel and of course the millions clamoring for the vaccine.

Pragmatic approach

What is happening here and indeed in much of the world is an unseemly rush to resume and get on with life often in disregard of the practicalities and the possible negative consequences.

The pragmatic approach appears to be that although there are risks in opening up the economy, the social space, public transport and indeed most places where people collect and assemble the end result is worth that risk and life must go on.

In short the end justifies the means.

Well dealing with Covid-19 and now its variant has been a complicated twist and turn exercise around the world. Lifting restrictions and opening up arguably sooner than we should will inevitably be at a price.

Depending on what yardsticks we use the price is worth it but there are still a number who say it is either too high or just not worth it. Let us turn to the opening up of schools.

Burning question

The first and most burning question that arises is are all schools ready or not? The answer is that different schools in different places are ready and some not yet.

So was it wise to make this order that schools will reopen this week as if all were on an equal footing and are all ready to open.

Some are, and some are not. Even if the physical infrastructure is there what about the nuts and bolts of the exercise? the preparedness of the schools?; the availability of the staff?.

Often overshadowing all of this is whether the parents are able to pay the school fees or other related costs and whether schools are ready to open and have enough teachers available complete with the ability to pay basic running costs? What is clearly evident is that schools and parents are at various degrees of readiness and so we are going to get a very mixed picture.

My guess is that it is going to be a hollow victory for the government. Statistics may show that the majority of schools will physically re-open. But when one gets down to bare facts and figures in terms of readiness and actual operations the overall picture will be one of pandemonium and an exercise in smoke and mirrors.

Some will argue that such an initial outcome is to be expected but that it will improve with time. I would beg to disagree. I think we could have spent the next week or two preparing the ground better so we can so we get the most out of a school resumption and make it less chaotic.

To rush into it just to comply with the usual school opening deadline and leave so much up in the air is an exercise in futility.

Remember also this is no normal school reopening. Schools have been closed for near on nine months. In the intervening period, we have gone through sheer turmoil.

All have been hit whether the schools and their relevant capacities, the parents and the school children. Resumption is going to be one hard steady slog and not one big bang.

I hope that some in authority are quietly working on a fall back plan to limit the damage and plot a more cautious and steady way forward. Remember this is not just a game of chess or poker. At the heart of this is the future and well-being of millions of our children. 

Mr Shaw is an economic and public policy analyst. [email protected]