COVID-19 sure is showing itself to be the disruptor and illuminator that the world has not seen before. The world has fundamentally changed since December 2019. At first glance, then, many thought that it was a problem that only China had to face. Certainly in South Africa the collective conscience was allowed to watch the anxiety and trauma unfold from a safe distance.
This is often a very comforting and reassuring feeling. However, on March 12, 2020 It was reported that South Africa had its first case of COVID-19. Our reality had suddenly shifted. The shifts engine-ripped fast and furious thereafter, without The Rock or much of any rock. We went from patient zero to a hard lockdown between March 12 and March 26 by the President of The Republic of South Africa, Honorable Cyril Ramaphosa. Life as we knew it changed rapidly from that point.
We braced ourselves for an announced 21 day lockdown. Two weeks into this brace position, as we say on a crashing aeroplane, we learnt of Risk-Adjusted COVID-19 Strategies. It suddenly started sounding like load shedding levels for many South Africans. And, like with load shedding, the end result basically brings discomfort: just different degrees and different levels of darkness and challenge. All of this continues to play out as we see infections rise, recovery rates rise and indeed also death rates rise.
On June 1, 2020 Level 3 Risk-Adjusted Strategy was imposed. Fundamentally, this level opens the economy in a manner that brings necessary relief for many business owners whose businesses suffered great economic loss during Levels 4 and 5 of the lockdown as they were not allowed to operate under these levels.
The thought and feeling on everyone’s minds is that this brings a big sigh of relief to everyone! Yeah! But, does it?
The truth is that yes: it gives the economy that necessary resuscitation after about two months of not breathing well. And, indeed the South African economy can be seen as a high risk patient: over 65, diabetic and with a pre-existing history of cardiac and pulmonary distress and also immune-compromised. This profile of patient must be protected from COVID-19.
On Sunday May 31, with or without Carte Blanche on in the background: many South Africans had that sinking feeling that it was back to work and possibly also school on Monday. Who would’ve thought? Go figure! Why? It’s all confusing. Weeks ago we were desperate to leave the house and now that we are told we can leave the house and go to work and school; we are anxious to do so.
These are some of the conflicting feelings that many face at this time. It can be even more stressful for some than the stress experienced during lockdown. Just as governments around the world have to make decisions between lives and livelihood: so too us, as small business owners have to take on that business and moral dilemma head-on. Bigger corporations have the same challenge, but at a quick glance it seems as if they are almost better equipped with options of support for the organisation and its employees.
The pain, responsibility and possibility of future trauma sits almost more intensely in the lap of small business owners. The COVID-19 Occupational Health and Safety Measures in Workplaces (C19 OHS, 20) as gazetted April 29, 2020 is quite clear about what the expectations are from any workplace about what is required to enable employees to return to work safely and to maintain a safe working environment. The act is simple and clear in its regulation, but it can be challenging and costly to comply 100 percent.
However, 100% compliance is a clear and mandatory requirement at this time. Non-compliance, will eventually quite simply show up in new infections of Covid-19 in your business, amongst your employees, your service providers, your customers and indeed and ultimately: your family and community.
I am aware that financial and economic stress cause tremendous strain on our mental health and wellness. After two months of this strain, many business owners were seeing themselves in deep and frightening states of desperation to get on with it; as the famous saying goes. One would imagine that being able to get on with it: would bring relief.
And it does from a financial and economic perspective in the immediate and short-term. If not managed diligently and with full compliance, I am afraid that in the long term we may be in for other more distressing factors.
When we agreed to have the economy open more: we willingly signed on the dotted line that there will be an increase in the number of infections and so doing also an increase in the number of deaths. We usually feel less afraid of this reality, while, like last year December- it all seems like a very far reality from our own.
Once, we start knowing the names and not just the numbers of the people who die due to Covid-19, as is expected the levels of trauma will be on the increase. In terms of the Covid-19 Mental Health Curve, we want to delay hitting the peak of that curve such as we have seen in places like Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and certainly the United States. At its peak, the same workers and business owners in the economy may find themselves able to get on with it now, but perhaps too sick, too distraught and perhaps even too dead to be able to get on with it.
The situation seems dire and almost too cruel to read in one sentence. However, my take is that we have to be pragmatic as a nation. We need to put in place the right biopsychosocial strategies to deal with the ultimate reality of an increased number of deaths. As psychologists, we have to be prepared to assist many patients during a time of complex grief and trauma. The cumulation of stress, trauma and ultimate grief will lead to a labour force that may not be able to be very productive. It is important that small business owners are aware of this future possibility and that he or she takes the right proactive strategies to be able to work with such a reality.
Bradley R. Daniels
MA CMHW (New York University) BA Hons (Applied Psychology) BA (Law)- Wits University
Clinical Psychologist, Human Performance & Employee Wellness Coach
I am a HPCSA (Health Professions Council of South Africa) registered Clinical Psychologist in private practice. I have many years of corporate wellness experience in my role as a Human Resources Practitioner in FMCG environment in my younger career; and over the last 10 years as a psychologist, working in the employee wellness space. My experience for working with crisis situations was deepened by working with MSF (Médecin Sans Frontières/ Doctors Without Borders) during the Ebola outbreak. I supported returning field workers during their time of quarantine. I also worked for the Department of Correctional Services where I provided mental health care to those incarcerated. Here, I worked with other dangerous diseases such as TB patients, cancer and AIDS in conditions of confinement. My specialist training at New York University (NYU) in mental health counselling and wellness lends itself perfectly to supporting clients with holistic wellness at times of crisis or negative health incidents. I am passionate to work in the fields of Cross-Cultural Psychology and with diverse populations-as mastered working at The Institute for Human Identity(ihi) in NYC and International House-NYC. My skills for working precisely and efficiently under pressure has been sharpened working at the African continent’s biggest academic hospital Chris Hani Baragwanath (Adult Psychiatry Unit).
All these joint experiences AND my own reality as a Small Business, have enhanced my competency to be able to support Your Small Business at this difficult time in the clutches of COVID-19.