Posted by : Posted on : 16-May-2020

Looking at the “new normal” as it will relate to the Solomon Islands and externally post-Covid-19

The Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. Luke Forau, launched the 2019 CBSI Annual Report last week when he reportedly said, “Due to the coronavirus containment measures, the launching was done virtually with the theme, preparing for a new normal amidst covid-19”.

I was interested to read Dr Forau’s reference to a “new normal” from a grammatical point of view and also the likely expectations - post coronavirus - that one might see in the Solomon Islands and globally, especially in the business world.

The idiom (or cliché) “the new normal”—in the sense of the new standard of baseline expectation or experience—has occurred fairly frequently in the past months since the world first became aware of the deadly, unseen virus, now sweeping the world.

In the Solomon Islands, the “new normal” has seen the people trying to adjust to the array of social restrictions imposed to prevent the virus entering the country; restrictions that prioritises public health.

After the pandemic is over, healthy lifestyles must be part of the “new normal.”

What many nations have come to realize since the onset of the coronavirus is that the physical health of residents in any country, along with its healthcare infrastructure, are two of the most important factors in determining how well a nation responds to public health threats. Without a healthy workforce, there can be no real and meaningful economic recovery.

The Solomon Islands must really think what can be learned from other nations about the impacts of public health threats on vulnerable populations.   I believe much can be learned about how New Zealand has effectively brought COVID-19 under control.

In the Solomon Islands, there are many people suffering from Non-communicable Diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer and having such health issues puts those suffering such underlying health conditions in the higher risk levels should coronavirus become prevalent.

As the country considers COVID-19 priorities and prevention measure, the government must do more to encourage a healthy life style change – as part of the “new normal” in the country.

Eating too many salty foods, sugary drinks, and consuming foods with little or no nutritional value, are already wreaking havoc on vulnerable people in the Solomon Islands,  and in the wider Pacific.

The government can create ways to educate the public through culturally appropriate public service announcements; and by developing a long-term plan to achieve food security.

In the Solomon Islands, there is enough fresh fruit, and vegetables can easily be cultivated sufficiently to combat chronic diseases such as diabetes. But as we all know, this is not the case — people are already dying prematurely and in high numbers from preventable non-communicable diseases, as I reported earlier about the number of deaths at the NRH since the start of this year

Eating local and staying healthy should be part of any new economic policy planning process. More importantly, and at the least, one must grow “to eat and eat what is grown.”

Moving forward, all must come together, united, as one Solomon Islands family to encourage each other to eat well; consume alcohol in moderation and responsibly; reduce or cut out smoking and exercise regularly.

Food security and food production are areas the government should give greater attention. There is a growing need to transform the agricultural sector and move from a piecemeal approach to a more strategic approach.

A crucial part of the Solomon Islands economic recovery cannot just focus on tourism; to do so, will be to repeat errors made in the past.

 If COVID-19 teaches anything to a small island state, it is that being able to feed the nation in times of crisis, is not only important but also quintessential to survival.

Post Covid-19 how much, how fast, and in what ways governments eventually reduce their economic role will be some of the most important questions of the next decade.

I believe the world will see the rise of a contact-free economy and in three areas in particular—digital commerce, telemedicine, and automation—the COVID-19 pandemic could prove to be a decisive turning point. 

In terms of e-commerce, the pandemic has accelerated a change in shopping habits that was already well established.

 In Europe, 13% of consumers have turned to online retailing for the first time.

I have previously written about telemedicine and the practice has become part of the “new normal” in Australia and more so in the United States.  The same trend to telemedicine practices have  been seen in France and South Korea.

Some senior students in the Solomon Islands are aware of what automation by way of robots might bring and have participated in robotic competitions with much success in overseas.

It is now estimated in a post-Covid-19 world, automation by way of robotics could affect 400 million to 800 million jobs by 2030.  This may seem far-fetched but let me give two examples to illustrate my point.

Here in Bangkok, the shopping malls are due to re-open tomorrow, Sunday, after the COVID-19 lockdown but with restricted shopping hours and subject to shoppers having their temperature checked, wearing compulsory face masks and practicing social distancing.

Patrolling the major shopping malls will be robots, humanoid looking, capable of detecting and reporting breaches of the health requirements, including singling out anyone without a face mask, with a temperature over 37 deg and anyone not keeping a safe distance apart.

Those robots will replace workers who would normally have been employed to uphold the public health measures.

In Singapore trial robots built much like big dogs and capable of walking very much like a dog would on all fours, now patrol some public parks and open spaces to survey and report, including sending photo images of  breaches of the health safety rules.   The robots do the work of former patrol officers.

And finally, companies will need to reconsider how they can establish more resilience. Many companies will need to rebalance their priorities, making additional resiliency measures as important to their strategic thinking as cost and efficiency. 

Because necessity is often the mother of invention, the pandemic could bring some positive outcomes. Individuals, communities, businesses, and governments are all learning new ways to connect. And businesses are finding faster, cheaper ways to operate. In-person conferences have used virtual technology with video conferencing. Remote working has grown out of all expectation and these changes could make for better management and more flexible workforces.

Remote or virtual conferencing has not been lost on the SIG of late and even Dr Forau presented the Bank’s 2019 Annual Report virtually.

Even Solomon Islands dive tourism entrepreneur, Belinda Botha has stepped up with a timely and proactive helping hand to offer virtual business coaching advice to struggling South Pacific tourism operators.

Yours sincerely

Frank Short

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