The Daily FT this week spoke to several of our regular columnists to crystallise and prioritise the best course of action and decisions needed as the country deals with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. These are questions we put to some of these thought leaders as follow-ups to what they have published in their articles in the Daily FT recently. The panel comprised W.A. Wijewardena, Dinesh Weerakkody, Omar Khan, Waruna Singappuli, Prof. Ajith de Alwis, Dr. Nirmal de Silva, Janaki Kuruppu, Aneetha Warusavitarana, and Sarath de Alwis. Here are the key highlights:
Q: Mr. Wijewardena let’s start with you. We are facing a devastating economic crisis as well as health crisis. What types of economic remedies by the Government can be most helpful now and in the immediate future?
A: The fallout of COVID-19 has been devastating for the already-ailing economy. But one should remember that this is the second such external shock that hit the country within the last 12-month period, the first being the Easter bombings of April 2019. The ripples of its destructive elements had not been fully dissipated by the time the second shock hit the country.
The first one crippled the by then booming tourism and hospitality sector and destroyed the main drivers of the country’s economic growth. It had been manifested by the very poor economic performance which the country had got in 2019. Economic growth in rupee terms had slowed down to 2.3% in 2019 from 3.3% in 2018. However, in US dollar terms, the economy had shrunk by 5% from $ 88 billion in 2018 to $ 84 billion in 2019 making Sri Lankans poorer than before. It is shown by the fact that the average income per Sri Lankan in US Dollars, also known as per capita income, had fallen from $ 4079 in 2018 to $ 3852 in 2019.
On top of this, the external sector was very fragile and the rupee was under continuous pressure for depreciation. The budget was beyond reform with an estimated deficit of above 6% of GDP as against a target of 4.5%. Public debt, especially foreign debt was ballooning and had created a major debt problem. Against this weak macroeconomic conditions, the new Government’s generous tax cuts aiming at getting a two-thirds majority in the forthcoming Parliamentary Elections delivered the final death knell on the economy.
COVID-19 hit the country in this weak background. It has completely crippled the economy, inflicting a heavy cost on exports, the main economic driver of Sri Lanka, and disrupting the otherwise smoothly functioning supply chain affecting agricultural, industrial and service sectors adversely. Taking a pragmatic view, EDB has already cut its target of export of goods and services by about $ 7.5 billion to $ 10.75 billion in 2020. All indicators are that Sri Lanka’s economy will shrink by about 10% in 2020, worsening the present macroeconomic woes faced by the country.
In this background, the reconstruction of the economy in the post COVID-19 era will require the country to invest a massive amount of funds just like the Marshall Plan that was in operation in Europe after the World War II. There was no problem for the implementation of the Marshall Plan because the victorious USA could do it by printing dollars in its new role as the World’s Central Banker Nation. But today, the world community cannot help Sri Lanka because they themselves are faced with similar economic issues. Hence, the reconstruction of the economy should be done with resources mobilised from within the economy.
For that, all Sri Lankans, irrespective of ethnic, language and religious differences, should make the supreme sacrifice by working hard, accepting voluntary pay-cuts and curtailing consumption and increasing savings for investment. The example should be set by the President and the Cabinet and passed on to those below, covering the whole nation.
If we can mobilise resources internally, any support that may come from outside could supplement it. The Government should immediately withdraw the costly tax cut program and introduce new taxes to raise funds for the reconstruction of the economy. Such a retreat should not be taken as a loss of face by those who had made that proposal initially.
At the global level, nations have to cooperate and collaborate with each other rather than seeking to win the game individually. Individual country efforts can take a nation forward to a certain level. But that level is not enough for it to even restore what it had been earlier, let alone making an improvement. The world has prospered from time immemorial by getting connected and not working alone. But the present tendency by big nations, especially USA, has been to work alone ignoring the need for moving up together to raise the global prosperity. It is the role of international organisations like the UN, IMF, World Bank, OECD and so on to bring all those countries on board and take global developments to higher levels.
Q: Dinesh, we have heard very little from the private sector during this period. Yes we’ve heard of donations, or offers of unused hotels as wards, but no statement of private sector solidarity or vision, no real challenge to the lack of any strategy seemingly being shared by the Government. Is there more the private sector needs to do to make its voice heard and to exercise its leadership and influence?
A: For a start governments, central banks and the WHO will not defeat coronavirus alone; the private sector must play a key role. While the Government’s primary focus has been to stem the flow of the COVID-19 virus, it is clearly constrained by the availability of funds needed to deploy. The private sector has engaged with and been engaged by the Government.
Protecting employees and redeploying their unique capabilities to meet society’s immediate needs has been the priority of many companies. The private sector can only successfully engage to support a solution, if the Government seeks out their engagement, advice and collaboration. This should merely not be a collection of donations from the private sector to the Government but actually reaching out to business leaders from the diverse sectors of the economy to form a common synchronised policy of the Government and the business community.
There is a silent problem that is brewing with the farming community unable to sell their products and the poorer sections of the community unable to get their medicine or to access the products of the farmers because of the breakdown of distribution logistics of the private sector. Therefore the need of the hour should be for business leaders to unite and the Government to engage and consult the entire business community in unison as a whole body to develop ‘A Survival Strategy’ and help execute it with the same precision as with the focus on eradicating the virus.
As chambers we have come together to find solutions to the current crisis and help our member companies as they attempt to absorb losses, steady cashflow and balance the competing needs of their investors, customers, staff and suppliers. Overall the Government has a made huge effort to manage the crisis.
Q: Sarath De Alwis, you have been wary of medical guidance coming to guide national decisions primarily or almost exclusively from the GMOA. Can you tell us more about those concerns and what you’d like to see happen instead?
A: WHO received the Chinese alert on the unidentified virus on 31 December 2019. Since then all health officials of all nations have the path of the pestilence which was finally declared a pandemic on 11 March. The Epidemiology Unit of our Ministry of Health issued its first situation report on 28 January. Here I need to be cautious. Officialdom in these troubled times practice their own immunology.
The Chairperson of Sri Lanka Tourism issued an update on the novel corona virus on 11 February 2020. It begins with the bland statement that ‘Sri Lanka currently has no coronavirus patient’. It then proceeds to provide the information given in the situation report of the Epidemiology Unit. The Epidemiology Unit kept track of global developments and disseminated information with daily situation reports published on its website. There were no policy directives regarding the size, scope or structure of the virus or the threat it represented.
The good doctors of the GMOA knew that they would be the foot soldiers. They stepped into the void. They demanded immediate precipitate action to halt the spread by physical restraints on movement. Every modern state has a central authority for disease control and prevention. Did we have such a central authority? The setting up of a national task force suggests that that there indeed was a need for an agency to act decisively.
The GMOA is a trade union of doctors. The reason for its existence is the clout they possess for collective bargaining. We may now want doctors to tell us how the virus can affect the respiratory system. But it was not very long ago that the GMOA decided to be the collective ventilator to air their grievances about the minister, medical council, private medical education, choice schools for their offspring, etc. The GMOA does not have epidemiologists, microbiologists, medical anthropologists and other special disciplines in its ranks to offer precise advice.
The virus spreads. How it spreads, how fast and by what means is still not absolutely established. The only points on which the GMOA has been proven right is the enormity of the threat and the need to enforce a lockdown to forestall the disastrous phase of community spread.
Medicine is a science-based discipline. The GMOA’s collective fidelity to silence is in serious doubt given its myopic neutrality on the deliberate hounding of a gynaecologist on the basis of his faith identity. The public has vivid memories of their incessant one-day token strikes purely to score political points. Then the GMOA wanted us to hold our breath for their 24-hour token strikes.
In the 21st Century medicine has explored new frontiers achieving medical miracles. The development of the science has been in the hands of medical scientists and medical philosophers. Medical practitioners are a different breed. There is a general perception that the GMOA and hence the doctors are unreasonably powerful and demonstrably authoritarian. There was a time when medicine was a calling. Now it is an industry.
Doctors are supposed to adhere to the Hippocratic Oath that is associated with the Greek Physician Hippocrates of Kos. The word Hypocrite is derived from the Greek word ‘Hypokrites’ which refers to masks worn by theatre actors. A possibility not too farfetched in our public psyche. Gripped in the panic of a pandemic, this is not the time to debate on what constitutes the professionalism of a physician. Can healers be agitators? Can a calling be a craft? These are not healthy questions in times of exceptional peril. That said, these times of exceptional peril demand that our doctors resolve conflicts between their professional values and professional perks.
Q: Aneetha, you clarified the difference between a lockdown and a curfew. Virtually no other country has a curfew like ours. What further can you tell us about that, and what should decision makers pay most attention to here?
A: Sri Lanka is an outlier when you compare our response with most countries because we have introduced a curfew and not a lockdown. The challenge now is the supply of essentials. A recent survey by Vanguard highlighted that at least a quarter of the population is finding it difficult to access food or medicine. Unless this is addressed, the incentive will be for people to break curfew.
A completely centralised approach will not be sustainable or practical, instead the Government should work to ensure that existing market mechanisms are allowed to function, with clear guidelines for safety, for example, contact-less delivery. The Government can then target and prioritise vulnerable populations, and effectively direct resources to ensure that they are not left behind.
Q: Ajith, you’ve mentioned ‘Coronomics’. What are its main features and what are its main implications for Sri Lanka?
A: Usually words such as freakonomics and abenomics have risen from the emphasis of perceived impact or the significant relevance on the economics from some processes or personalities, thus making a significant change to the economic trajectory. The idea behind coining coronomics was the same.
Sitting in a location many thousands of miles away from Wuhan when the word was used in the Daily FT article in February, I had no idea whatsoever of the likelihood of the situation that we are having today (one can say that I am a poor scenario thinker). However I felt early on with the shutdown of Wuhan – an industrial powerhouse in China – that there was so much impact the microscopic virus was going to have on economies.
When writing in February I was only seeing the difficulties will face when almost all the eggs have been placed in one basket, or when all the eggs have to come from one basket and the basket is locked away in Wuhan. The issue was obvious with 80% of APIs for pharmaceuticals originating from China. As the days go by, I see the significance every day. The microscopic virus is having a massive impact on the economy and economists cannot do anything either as the epidemiological curve dictates every decision.
The lack of resilience of the economy was exposed by the virus and the fact almost all the shots are played by the virus is obvious – so the features of the economy shaped by the virus is obvious, hence coronomics. We cannot produce a respirator and not even a dust mask quite easily as all that we need invariably has to come from somewhere and with the coronavirus having travelled far and wide with many locations subjected to lockdowns, the island has truly become an island! With one million infections and 10 million job losses in one economy, don’t you see the relevance of coronomics? The stats are still unfortunately open!
It is interesting to think that finally it was left to a virus finding its way from a bat to a human many thousands of miles away to teach multiple lessons to Sri Lanka!
Q: Waruna, you explained the need to have a necessary trade-off between health impact and economic impact. Based on our policies, do we seem to understand that? What would you most critically want to point out to decision makers in this regard?
A: It’s quite puzzling why financial experts, economists and private sector industry bodies have been so quiet all this time. It was only the health sector bodies that were heard and put pressure on the policymakers.
For instance, nobody knows how many businesses may have to close down, how many jobs would be lost, how many would experience reductions in income, the extent of reduction in income, to what extent Government would lose tax income which would naturally affect its ability to make expenditure (including public sector salaries and other subsidies necessary during this time).
The experts who have this domain knowledge should try and quantify these at least now. Then even the health sector experts could take a more informed stance. Maybe they can help us to quantify the number of lives we are trying to save by these expensive measures.
Q: Nirmal, with SMEs making up so much of the economy, the same question as we posed to Dinesh, while they may not have the clout of an HNB or a Keells, representing such a large percentage of the economy, have they done enough to have their voices heard, to argue for some opportunity to operate without endangering public health?
A: Unlike the larger organisations which have well-structured industry bodies and chambers to support, lobby and discuss with policymakers, the SMEs are on the receiving end. There is industry level fragmentation and a general lack of collaboration between SMEs at an industry level.
However, some of the positives that I see over the last few days are:
1. Many entities are creating webinars, online awareness/training programs and other support forums online.
2. These has been a good focus and discussion on mainstream media on SMEs, Daily FT being a good case in point.
3. The Government economic stimulus package announced under Central Bank circulars 4 and 5 will help the formal sector SMEs somewhat but the informal sector ones will be vulnerable.
Some ideas moving forward would be:
1. Larger companies can support the SMEs by being flexible in usual credit terms, provide supply chain support, etc.
2. The Government will have to create a separate economic support package dedicated to SMEs.
3. SMEs need to be united at an industry level and come up with some common action plans.
Q: Janaki, how can we rally pride in being Sri Lankan, practically realising that love of country also means we all need to mobilise together?
A: Sri Lankans work better as a group, we are not so individualistic like the Westerners. The pride of being a Sri Lankan has been how we have come forward always as communities, during a 30-year war, during the tsunami, etc. Throughout all these testing times, it’s our core values of helpfulness, kindness and caring for neighbours that held us together. We can do it this time too. This time too we need to mobilise together, that’s the only way to come out of this pandemic. We need to follow the rules to save myself and thereby save my fellow citizens and my motherland.
Q: Omar, you’re a visitor here; as a consultant you’ve had a working love affair, if we can call it that, with Sri Lanka since the early ’90s. From an ‘outside in’ perspective, what is your biggest recommendation for Sri Lanka as we grapple with COVID-19 and life during and after?
A: Beware hysteria. Get facts. COVID-19 is a terrible scourge and we mourn with everyone who has lost loved ones and salute all the valiant people on the frontlines treating and policing and serving and protecting. However, it is not akin, to date, nor shows any signs of being, in terms of its current infectiousness, on par with some of the worst pandemics of history, which afflicted one-third to one-half the planet depending on how far back in history you go.
What is different is the 24/7 ‘breaking news’ cycle driven by the desire to magnify and amplify every development to keep people riveted. We must beware what I have termed ‘the hysteria industry’.
So, my advice is, with 189 cases as of now, and seven deaths, our greater danger, on the facts today, is the impact of a curfew (various degrees of ‘lockdown’ are demonstrated best practice right now world-wide, not outright curfews; outright curfews, must less multi-week, round-the-clock curfews are not the case in the US, Europe, Asia Pacific, Middle East, or really anywhere else).
Ergo, this needs to be re-thought, and following Singapore’s example I urge that we ensure in addition to letting people buy food, medicines, bank, take a well-distanced walk (these are not ‘unique suggestions’ but what is globally overwhelmingly the case virtually everywhere), prioritise the staged return to work of Sri Lanka’s most strategic economic sectors and above all, ensure we are protecting our supply chain.
Targeted economic stimulus that incentivises keeping employees working and businesses viable is crucial. But right now we need some expressed fact-based strategy, with cost-benefit assessed scenarios, so everyone has clarity, the Government can plan and mobilise accordingly, and so can businesses, including the financial sector.
A functioning economic system is a prerequisite for a functioning health care system, so we just can’t divorce the two, they are inextricably linked, and to protect one we have to protect the other.
Q: Mr. Wijewardena, coming back to you, you’ve also sounded a warning alarm about fundamentalism over this period. Can you explain that and what we should be doing instead?
A: When an economic system is in disarray and everyone feels hunger, a fertile ground is created for people to accept all kinds of conspiracy stories. Each one starts believing that his economic woes are due to his being exploited by his neighbour. A small group of people will begin to exploit this weak mental state to their advantage by propagating extreme views against all others.
Fundamentalism will initially be manifest as a war against those outside the country and when that war does not yield any positive results, it would turn against their own people, first targeting minorities and then their own people who are doing better than they themselves. Whatever may be, it is destructive in nature since these internal conflicts, amplified by personal glory searching political, community and religious leaders, take a nation backward by a few centuries. History is full of examples to substantiate this claim.
The concept of nation is necessary for continued prosperity but that nation should include all those who are its members. This was how the miracle of Singapore was created by its top leaders: recognising everyone as a Singaporean and not by their ethnicity (Chinese, Malay or Tamils) or faith (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism). An ominous development that we have experienced in Sri Lanka today is a surge of fundamentalist ideas by a small group of people who have the biggest voice.
The Lebanese-American Essayist Nassim Taleb in his ‘Skin in the Game’ has elaborated the ills of a minority overtaking a majority and making the latter a silent spectator rather than a group capable of fighting the former. If Sri Lanka is bogged down with fundamentalist ideas, it cannot rise as a nation and it will take the country backward by a few centuries while the rest of the world would move forward. This is the danger to be avoided.
Q: Dinesh, one of the dictums during crisis is that we have to ‘over-communicate’ with our corporate teams, possibly customers, stakeholders. As you chair and sit on various boards, is that happening effectively? Do you have best practice to share?
A: In this fast-moving and uncertain situation like now, we face many questions they may not even have answers to. Therefore it is important to communicate often with your key constituencies throughout a crisis. Even if you’re still trying to understand the extent of the problem.
1. It is vital to be in contact with customers and reassure them continuously.
2. It is vital to have regular but short meetings with a tight agenda drawn so that the issues are kept focused with desired outcomes clearly specified.
3. The meetings should be more frequent at board level perhaps once a week or fortnight so that the continuously moving situation can be gauged to look at whatever the opportunities or decisions that has to be made.
4. At managerial level, key executives should cascade the practices so that most if not all employees clearly understand a). The ground reality and face it and b). Have several smaller goals to achieve towards the bigger goal set out by management
Q: Sarath, you’ve warned against using the containment of the viral menace to manipulate society or to misdirect pension funds and the like. Could you explain the concern and share what leads you to have it in the current situation?
A: We expected Parliament to be dissolved in March 2020. Parliamentary Elections have now been postponed by the Elections Commission. That has not reduced the ferocity of competitive politics. The former Governor of the Central Bank and Advisor to the Prime Minister lost no time in announcing a scheme to inject funds from the largest pension fund to kick-start the economy. I made a veiled reference to the manipulative designs of the oligarchs who are totally aloof from the political game at ground level.
Since the civil war ended, a skilled, secretive oligarchy bound in incestuous avarice has monopolised the country’s finance industry. Before the bond scam of January 2015, the average citizen of Sri Lanka did not know what Lord Mervyn King calls the ‘Alchemy of Money’. They still don’t. The pandemic is a God-given gift to these oligarchs whose wealth is not in productive enterprises but in speculative finance. This is again their hour.
Forward march: Strategies for Sri Lanka amid COVID-19 crisis
In his book ‘End of Alchemy,’ Lord King quotes from Walter Bagehot’s ‘Lombard Street’ a description of the money market: ‘The peculiar essence of our financial system is an unprecedented trust between man and man; and when that trust is much weakened by hidden causes, a small accident may greatly hurt it, and a great accident for a moment may almost destroy it.’
The pandemic is not a small or great accident. For Sri Lanka it is nothing less than Armageddon. But that is my uniformed opinion. People who own or operate banks know better.
Q: Aneetha, what post-shutdown guidance or prognosis would you offer?
A: While the curfew has resulted in low rates of transmission in Sri Lanka, the reality is that curfew cannot be imposed indefinitely. It is the first phase of action, and this immediate containment of the situation has worked. The next phase of action would be a gradual opening, moving towards something similar to the lockdowns we can see internationally. In order to ensure that the lifting of curfew does not create a dramatic rise in the number of cases, the Government should ideally use this time to rapidly expand its testing capacity, and ensure that there is an adequate supply of masks in the country – both for those on the frontlines of this crisis and for general use.
Q: Ajith, you have shared a concern about supply chain disruptions becoming devastating. How is that unfolding, and what steps should we be taking?
A: It can be stated quite openly and frankly that Sri Lanka never really had a serious vision on ensuring the resilience of the economy. If some money was coming through a certain mechanism, lots of effort was extended in that particular direction, but without a creative mindset. We went on believing and relying on such options. When we were finding remittances from Middle East, we never took steps to understand the deeper deficiency of relying on such mechanisms. Our brain drain is rampant; we still think some more foreign exchange may come through that at some point in time.
When Lonely Planet speaks of us quite highly, we just pour all our investments into building more rooms but do not consider how to make tourism a more holistic enterprise without just being satisfied with numbers and percentages. We have extended supply chains and poor value addition overall and minuscule manufacturing sector with poor flexibility and scalability.
One of the most important supply chains is the food supply chain (within it one can explore many different supply chains from paddy, fruits and vegetables to fish and eggs, etc.). For 70 years we have run with significant losses and minus technology. For how many years have we been discussing cold chains? As a nation Sri Lanka has not added much manufacturing capabilities to society since independence. Hence the lack of diversity in the export basket is telling and you do not need much analysis to understand this.
Seventy plus years have gone by with few exports but with much more sophisticated individual requirements as imports – only serviced through an expanding trade deficit. Even a biological sample cannot be transported easily and efficiently from one place to another as we realise the system deficiencies of dependence to the outside for the simplest of item. Definitely the scale of the problem is unique and one simply does not plan for pandemics. However, with knowledge and capabilities, managing a pandemic without a scare is possible as the system capabilities and the skill sets present are understood.
Another significant change in this episode management is the importance of science and technology. We have allowed science and technology to slip away from all our decision-making and the scientific literacy of the populace is at an alarmingly low level. In the education system what we observe is declining interest in science while other countries are taking many steps to push the interest in the direction of science. Due to these shortcomings most of us do not have any disposable income worth speaking of. No decent disposable income for most of us, and your life then is a one of hand-to-mouth existence.
Believe that once we understand these issues, answers are obvious. The virus has also shown that once human activities carried over many years are removed for a short time, the environment is returning with speed! Similarly perhaps the correct understanding of the problem can still change the country for the better. What is also important is ensuring that the value system is nurtured while any transformation is taking place.
Q: Waruna, what type of dialogues need to be taking place to prepare Sri Lanka to effectively turn the corner? Who should be involved? If they’re not already taking place, why is that?
A: It is not taking place due to the reason given above. Even if you take individuals, the affordability of expensive healthcare depends on the financial standing of each individual. The same applies for countries. The USA has already announced a package which is worth almost 10% of its economy to shield the economic impact. Sri Lanka doesn’t have the financial strength to come up with such expensive measures. Keeping the economy closed for weeks is an indirect way of doing just that. We need to ask whether we can afford it, before it’s too late.
Q: Nirmal, you’ve written about ‘survival of the adaptable’. This will probably extend to virtually all of society, but yes, especially the most vulnerable. What are your recommendations here?
A: There are a number of things from a society, company and country perspective:
Need to focus on lifestyle changes and consumer behaviour patters
Focus on expenditure patterns and prioritise
Understand that the Government can only support to a certain degree and move away from an entitlement mentality
Be responsible for their future, embrace change and be rational in decision making as opposed to being emotional
Upskill themselves and be willing to look at alternative career paths
Ensure their health and wellbeing including the psychological aspect so that they can weather the storm during tough times (both physically and mentally)
Relook at their business model. Make the necessary changes ASAP since the market and business conditions will now change
Look at cost-saving measures in every aspect of the value change
Introduce changes to the company structure, encourage flexible working and outsourcing arrangements
Invest in training and development
Explore new business opportunities and diversification
Identify new opportunities to utilise spare/excess capacity
Develop new marketing plans including a stronger emphasis on digital
Customer retention and loyalty strategies to be a priority
Identify collaboration opportunities at a multi-sectoral perspective
Re-look at the product portfolio and introduce new measures such as product rationalisation, reducing the range, introducing the package sizes, evaluate the new distribution channels, etc.
Come up with a three-year post-COVID economy revival plan
Encourage import substitution and drive a strong produce local buy local mindset
Have a well-thought-out strategy to help citizens overcome and adapt to the psychological trauma associated with the pandemic
Encourage industry level and community level task forces
Re-negotiate our debt repayments and efficiently allocate aid (zero tolerance on corruption or mismanagement)
Have a clear, open and transparent mechanism for communication with citizens
Ensure social unity, cohesion and leave no room for racial disharmony
Q: Janaki, what perspective or narrative should inform our attempt at successful recovery? How can we best ensure it gets effectively communicated?
A: I think we should tap into the spirituality of our people while using the narratives and perspectives used so far. We have used control and punish type of approach so far, that should continue. Especially, the educational part has to continue. However, in addition, if more spiritual leaders come forward and give warnings on spiritual deterioration, this may be more impactful, especially now that we can’t even go to temples, churches, etc.
Every time we turn on the TV, radio or social media, we hear more of corona. What about bringing the message of caring for your life and your countrymen by being a responsible citizen and a responsible human being as the only way out? I see lot of these type of messages on social media but not on national media.
Q: Omar, what do global benchmarks tell us, to the extent they can, as to what is emerging ‘best practice’ and what does that lead you to suggest as being most critical for Sri Lanka given the make-up of our economy and global impacts?
A: When you move past ‘imported transmission,’ you have to then arrest ‘local transmission’. So, closing the border for some time makes eminent sense and is best practice. Beyond that, there are two camps. The overwhelming strategy being deployed is measured lockdowns.
South Korea never shut down its economy, nor Taiwan. Hong Kong and Singapore apply ‘brakes,’ loosening and tightening again based on evidence and thresholds, while always in the latter case, keep the strategic businesses, supply chain, and access to food, medicine, banking, and some limited ability to move around, paramount. Sweden has taken the extreme posture of no lockdown, saying that would bankrupt their relatively small export-based economy which would devastate people in a different way if they did so, and the implications of their strategy and that story are still being written as of now.
There is a myth that you can’t do targeted lockdowns in Sri Lanka, as we don’t have the social discipline, or aren’t as ‘compact’ as Singapore. But if you ask people if they want starvation or the destruction of their business or livelihood, or if given a chance, they would prefer to exercise some discipline, by now I think we can leverage better behaviour. Actually, I don’t know if we have a choice. Absent at least the above, and doing more or less, based on facts (which to me is the best practice of all), we are going to make recovery less and less viable in any appreciable way each day.
Clear communication of a fact-based strategy, erring towards protecting life, but also the viability of life is clearly necessary. Moreover, as we to date, have had mercifully few cases and fatalities, we are well placed to proactively plan to create, via the strategic sectors and even beyond, ‘recovery’ plans, so we can be at the forefront of a regional or even global recovery, however gradual it may be. Those strategies have to be sector-specific, but if we can be rational, relative to evidence based ‘circuit breakers’ and course-correction that may be needed as a result, we can proactively prepare to be ahead of the recovery curve.
A post-script: A highly important study from Dr. David Katz of Yale University has just come out essentially providing a game-plan in line with the above, in fact also largely aligned with a letter that was issued on April 5th by leading medical Professors in Sri Lanka. I am outlining both in a related article.