The Economic Trap of Coronavirus

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It is a difficult call for any government to shut down its economy, but that’s what’s happening today due to the coronavirus. Here is the trap, the public quarantine due to the virus has led to the loss of jobs and incomes, inflation, and recession, yet governments have to finance the quarantine in form of social palliatives, yet again, governments have to fund the containment, stoppage, and cure of the virus, and again governments have to finance the revival of the hibernated economy. All of these in the presence of the worst oil revenue slumps in two decades, and a period when every country is struggling to survive, and external aids are not imminent.

The longer the pandemic stays, the more expensive the recovery will be. So, the government would need to spend more now to cut the waiting period, because every minute comes with a steeper recovery cost. This crisis is unique and by far different from the 2008 economic crisis. Now let’s analyze these questions, can the Nigerian government bear these costs and what’s the Nigerian best bet? How to manage the coronavirus economic crisis and how different the current economic crisis is from the 2008 global recession?

More than half of the total jobs in Nigeria is being lost, people lose their jobs without social protection and are being asked to stay at home. Income losses are estimated to amount to at least N3 Trillion in Nigeria alone in just a matter of a few months. Investment is rapidly going down. Factories have shut down, even factories that insist on production in this period could not operate as their workers decided to stay at home for their safety despite the bonus offered to them, and this led to scarcity and hence Inflation.

The economic paralyses are spreading even faster than the pandemic. The effects of these and many other economic paralyses caused by the novel coronavirus will leave a scar and reverberate around economies even in the aftermath of the pandemic.

The gap is getting wider, it requires refill by the day. The financial contributions made so far in Nigeria by public and private individuals and organizations to fight the coronavirus, which amounted to over N30 billion, is an opportunity to start somewhere, at least, to contain the disease, fund development of the testing kits and maybe fund researches for the development of its cure. This is a period where external intervention may be limited because every country is concerned about their health and economic uncertainties.

How to manage the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus is by far different by how we managed the world economic recession back in 2008. The 2008 global recession was a normal economic cycle that happens at least once in a generation and it was seen coming. It was more of the effect of human errors and decisions, and it was caused by variables within the economy. During the 2008 recession, the economy was not shut down, it was active. So, the aftermath bailout and other injections were smooth, and the time lag was not that long.

In contrast, the recession caused by the coronavirus is external to the economy, unexpected, very fast and more severe. It also put the economies on hold, and at the same time spending a lot to keep it on hold. The money that could be used to revive the economy has to be spent to fund the management of the pandemic and for social protections during the economic hold on. The loss of jobs in the current crisis is 10 times more than the 2008 economic crisis. Similarly, in the 2008 crisis, the oil price did not plummet to as far low as below $20 per barrel as it is now, the lowest it reached then was $32 per barrel, so, there were some reasonable revenues to fund that recovery. The current crisis came with two punches, a sharp increase in demand for government spending and a deep decline in government revenue. So, when we eventually come out of this pandemic, are we going to have the energy to go for another war, the economic war?

The effects of these shutdowns and lockdowns will echo after the pandemic and might cause some social and economic unrest, which require redress too. So, the government needs to spend more money this time around to recover the economy as an economic stimulus. Other countries would be focused on reviving their economy too, every country will be on their own. According to the United Nations, developing countries would need a $2.5 trillion COVID-19 rescue package to revive their economies. For Nigeria, at least a $100 billion rescue is required.

Our best bet in Nigeria is to do our best to stop the spread because the more it spreads, the longer it lasts, and the more we expose ourselves to graver dangers ahead. So, it is cheaper for us to do everything possible to end the pandemic in just a month, let us target the end of April. However, with the increasing rate of new cases, it is not encouraging.

Everyone has to take this pandemic as a personal economic threat because it is a trap, we all fall in. Think about Taxi and bus drivers, restaurants, hotels, barbers, airlines, social and sporting centers, and other informal and semi-formal businesses in this period, it is a catastrophe. Our individual and collective economies are severely affected by the day, and if it continues there will be chaos, a bigger catastrophe. Closing down the economy longer might lead to even bigger problems. The Swedish relaxed approach can be considered in Nigeria as soon as possible.

I would like to commend the efforts of health authorities for their efforts so far, and I want to implore them to make judicious use of the resources contributed. In this case, it must not be the Nigerian way, because it is a matter of life and death. The President needs to be more proactive and work closely with the task force to supervise the operation and receive minute by minute updates. The visibility is not necessary, but in the period of crisis and uncertainty, people need to be seeing and hearing from their leaders for more partnerships, hopes, and psychological stability. We are in a war, a health and economic war, our commanders-in-chief need to be more proactive in the period of war.

Dr. Ahmed Adamu
Petroleum Economist, Nile University, Abuja.

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