Stories from Cork (Part 3): Both developed and developing countries will learn a lot from the Covid-19 Pandemic.

I am writing this in my university accommodation room and looking straight through the window, I can see the empty parking yard across. Between my apartment and the parking yard is River Lee, which runs through Cork city up to the East Coast.

The empty parking yard is a constant reminder that these are not ordinary times. The Covid-19 global pandemic has caused significant disruption to our daily lives. Here in Ireland, the Taoiseach (Prime Minister in Irish) on March 12 (Thursday) ordered that all schools, universities and workplaces must close for two weeks until March 29. When the announcement was made, were in the middle of our practical class in the multimedia lab. From that point on, everything became abnormal. I had to return to my room, have lunch and rush to buy some groceries to last me at least a week.

On reaching Lidl, one of the big-name stores in Ireland, the store was unbelievably congested.  The announcement of a complete lockdown caused panic buying. I got my essentials, bread, peanut, tomatoes, onions, rice. Unfortunately, some shelves were empty and didn’t get my favourite pork. And while leaving the store, I saw a couple struggle to pack items in 3 full trolleys into their small car.

Disruption in Learning Studies and Social Life.

After the lockdown was announced, we then started to receive emails from the university management about how the learning was going to continue online through the learning management system – canvas. But as a write this, we have had only one lecture online-and it was the programme coordinator. He has been very helpful to us during this difficult period.

However, most of the lecturers have accelerated online engagement and are telling us to go through the notes and ask questions, or clarifications. The eLearning system is quite robust and supports both video and audio lectures/calls. The other system we are using is Microsoft Teams.

For now, we look forward to doing the online exams next month. The full message form university management is below:

What I have found to be confusing is being told that you should not go to the hospital even when you have symptoms. I grew up knowing that (like all Ugandans) when you are sick, you should go to the hospital. Here, instead, you are told to call your GP (General Practitioner-Doctor). Then GP refers you to hospital. It is because everything, including health matters, requires an appointment. Unbelievable.

For now, we spend our time reading notes and doing the many assignments. But staying indoors the whole day can be stressing. People take walks in the evening to get some fresh air or do jogging. Of course, you should follow social distancing guidelines.

The global outlook and disruption

When the epidemic broke out in China in December, the media (especially Western media) went on a frenzy, doing all sorts of things to criticize the health and governance system of China. But when the virus spread, we have seen that it has wreaked havoc even in “advanced” health systems and economies. The death toll in neighbouring Italy is another pandemic on its own. There is a proverb in my language that says that “problems visit everyone, whether you are rich or poor, near or far.” Any system (political, economic, social, health. etc) has its loopholes.

Ugandans should Prepare & be Vigilant

Overall, Ugandans have learnt to deal with health epidemics like Ebola, cholera, Marburg and even HIV. I was old enough (2002) when Ebola, combined with war situation killed hundreds in Gulu. Many lessons were learnt from that experience. Museveni has already pronounced himself on the matter and ordered the closure of schools and public events for 32 days. I know Uganda will contain the virus if it emerges. I guess that border areas like Busia, Kasese, Kabale, Gulu and Kampala are susceptible. However, the MOH decision to extort money in the name of forceful quarantine of people arriving at Entebbe airport is unfair and may backfire when others choose to enter Uganda through other means. It appears the intention is to create a “project” out this pandemic in order to “eat”. Just imagine the fate of students (like me) who may arrive into the country with maybe 200 euros.

Expect the Financial Crisis

Here in Europe, the European Union and several countries have been to quick to reassure their people that the government will offer financial support to businesses, workers and investors in order to stabilize the economy. In Uganda, Museveni has deliberately decided not to talk about the economic impacts of the pandemic & his response economically. Overall, even with these financial stimulus packages, I believe that we should expect tough economic times ahead. In Uganda, the situation is made even worse because 2020 is a political year. I expect unemployment & inflation to skyrocket, businesses to collapse and heavy spending on political campaigns instead of social services.

Lessons from the Pandemic

From this pandemic, we have seen that both developed and developing countries are prone to global shocks and disruptions. What started in a small city in China has spread to over 170 counties and killed hundreds every day. In terms of education, this situation presents a good opportunity for schools and universities in Uganda to fully embrace e-learning. E-learning is learning itself and should be incorporated into everyday learning.

In conclusion, this pandemic has once again shown that the world and humanity should work together to confront global challenges. Talking, criticizing has not been very helpful in this pandemic. Taking action and providing solutions are more important-and to save lives. I know people will do research and next year, we will have someone win the Nobel prize to suggesting to the world a new political or economic model or Covid-19 vaccine. What remains clear is that the impact of the Covid-19 global pandemic will be felt for many years to come. End

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