Impact of COVID-19: Challenges & Opportunities – An Engineer’s Perspective

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are difficult to ignore,
as the coronavirus has inflicted a swift and massive shock that has caused
the broadest collapse of the global economy since 1870. A thick cloud of smoke has engulfed the world like a dark evil blanket, bringing its churning wheels to a grinding halt. The whole world has been sent into panic by a virus none knows much about. All talk in Government and society has shifted
to anything and everything to do about COVID-19. We have forgotten what it was that occupied our thoughts before COVID-19 snuck in like a thief and took centre stage in our minds.

The virus has wrecked havoc in social, economic, and spiritual spheres of our lives. Many will relate to the rat race that has taken captive of all humanity. Daily, we chase the wind and go to bed tired but unsatisfied. On waking up the following day, we repeat the whole routine all over again. Our lives needed
to slow down but we would not do it on our own volition. The pandemic had to force that on us. We no longer spent time with our families. We forgot what those dear to us liked as a favorite dish or as a favorite colour. We lost touch with our children. As we now spend more time with our families, we have rediscovered each other again, to a refreshingly new start and a boost to
our relationships.

As death has robbed us of those dearest, we have been forced to recalculate and ascertain what exactly was of paramoun importance in our lives. We have realized that health is more important than the amount of money you have or the latest gadgets you have acquired for yourself. It has become important to have health insurance than to have a golf club membership. The pandemic has confined people in small spaces because of the lockdown. As a result, a shadow pandemic has crept in unnoticed and unchecked. Domestic abuse
has spiked during these months of lockdown, with people venting their frustrations onweaker members of the family. BBC reports that domestic abuse has gone up by 20% worldwide as a result of the lockdown. Some
cases however go unreported. Some people who have been locked down with no one to talk to have sunk deeper and deeper into depression as loneliness has taken its toll.

Some have abused substances as a way of escape whilst others have seen suicide as the only way out. In all that is happening around us, I believe that nature needed a time out from the insatiable lust of human activities which
have been far from being sustainable.

Men have continued to take and take, more than what the environment could
regenerate. As the whole world ground to a halt and took cover under the safety of their homes, the environment started recreating itself. Air pollution kills seven million people a year, according to an article on National Geographic. Now, from China’s Hubei province to industrial northern Italy,
pollution levels have plummeted during the lockdowns.

Economies have not been spared either as industrial production has gone down due to country lockdowns. The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on African economies by Deloitte is shown in the diagram. These economic effects have been felt at an individual, business, and country levels.

Challenges Many people have lost their jobs due to COVID-19. Others have been forced to go on unpaid leave or accept pay cuts. The most affected are workers in the informal sector and casual labourers. In the airline industry, workers have suffered up to 75% pay cuts. Most business is now being conducted online e.g. purchases, payments, and banking but most individuals are not tech-savvy to navigate those waters. Some people have no access to a smartphone and data. Access to protective wear like masks, and
hand sanitizers, has moved out of the reach of many. Prices have doubled or the products are not available on the shelves.

As classrooms have become virtual, with applications like Edmodo and WhatsApp being employed to engage students. Students need access to a smartphone or laptop as well as data for connectivity, which is outside the reach of many. Schools need to purchase online teaching software, which
was unbudgeted for cost. Individuals in the arts and craft industry have been affected by the suspension of international flights that used to bring in tourists. Tourists were their main customers for the wares.

Most individual businesses will collapse, as people dig into the business capital for daily sustenance. As the saying goes, every dark cloud has a
silver lining. There have been opportunities created for individuals as a result of the pandemic.

Opportunities Individuals can now work from home and cut on travel costs, spend more time with their families, and make better use of the time they otherwise spent locked in traffic jams. E-commerce has boomed over the
past months. A recent analysis by ACI Worldwide (Financial Markets Association) shows that global e-commerce sales rose by 209% in April 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

People need to be trained on popular software packages so that they are more tech-savvy. If you can teach these packages then there is money for you
there. Businesses that sell tech equipment and accessories will record increased sales as most people will need to purchase a smartphone to be able to connect onto the internet.

For the book writers, now is the time to publish online. Readership for online
books has increased. E-book writers can focus on books that address current needs like Video Marketing, Zoom Conferences, Content Creation, and Social Media. Health is now a top priority for people as they rush to boost their body’s immune system. If you can offer wellness and health products, you are in business.

With COVID-19 challenges, more and more people will need all the mental and
emotional help they can get. Teaching students online privately is another need to be solved. Schools are closed but students still need engagement
of some sort so that they do not lag. This is the era for digital innovation. If you are great at app development, the time is now to develop apps that make life easier or faster online.

Businesses have not escaped the scathe of the pandemic.

Companies are faced with huge overheads and payment of salaries every month, whilst experiencing low productivity levels. Contractors on building sites have forced both their expats and local employees on unpaid leave as a result of the lockdowns. There is a decline in construction projects’ financing as lenders are feeling uneasy due to the current high risk in projects not being
completed. The supply chain of materials to construction sites has been disrupted causing delays in project completion.

For engineering projects, there is confusion as to whether the Force Majeure clause should be triggered or not. Who is going to bear the costs, the Client, or the Contractor? This will see many litigation cases arising if project teams fail to settle the issue amicably among themselves.

The Construction industry employs a lot of people who will be required to work in one place. There is a need to come up with ways to resume operations but safely to protect all the employees. Private schools depend mostly on school fees payments from parents, for their administration. As a result of the school closures, teachers have been on unpaid leave, some have been informed to seek employment elsewhere if they so wish. If the closures
persist, these schools might cease to exist.

Marketing of businesses and products has migrated online. One has to skill up or be frustrated. With employees working remotely, how does the business ensure effectiveness in its workers’ productivity and data safety? This is a major headache for businesses. A post-COVID-19 era employer will have to
prove that they are aware of the changes that now exist. Policies that encourage family time, sustainability, and healthy living will need to be driven by trusted leaders.

Businesses need to rediscover who their customer is post COVID-19. What is their new consumption or purchasing pattern? Goods might need to be priced downwards or changed completely to suit. To remain relevant, social and public places will have to come up with ways of embracing social distancing in their setups to build patronage confidence.

Businesses will cut on office rentals as workers continue to work from home. Some businesses will migrate to working remotely as they have seen that it is possible. This is the time for businesses to trim their workforce and operate lean. They can now identify what services are essential and which services can even be contracted out. Innovation is the new buzz word. Traditional
companies will have to be innovative or go extinct.

By Eng. Joy Makumbe (Permanent Secretary – Ministry of National Housing and Social Amenities)

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