Many businesses and industries continue to struggle to manage through the COVID–19 pandemic.
The partial lockdown early last year compelled many businesses to stop operating or to significantly cut back on operations, while those that were operating were faced with the challenges of securing inputs, customers attrition and reduction in demand for their products and services, therefore, resulting in a drop in production volumes.
These resulted in low sales and profits. For some businesses, their sales or revenues are yet to return to pre-lockdown levels as the effect of that period continues to impact their operations.
By all indications, businesses may have to live with this for longer than expected as Ghana is experiencing its second wave as in many other countries. According to Mr. Victor Yaw Asante, the Managing Director of FBNBank Ghana Limited, “due to the current situation hopes of a better 2021 are fading rapidly following a tough start of the year where statistics on COVID-19 infections have been grim.”
Mr. Asante, however, believes that businesses may be better prepared to live with COVID-19 in 2021 than they did in 2020. According to him, even though 2021 is likely to record an increase in the number of daily infections across the country, people are in a better position to manage the effect on their businesses now that there is better knowledge around how to manage the effects. Also, the lessons learnt from the previous restriction and partial lockdown will be applied if there is the need to readjust business operations.”
He explained that “companies have invested in platforms and technology enablers that will aid remote working. Also, in terms of their welfare, staff have become more aware of how to manage their health and how to adhere to the protocols in order to avoid the disease.” These, the Managing Director of FBNBank believes will “make it easier to work from home and therefore afford a better management of the disruptions.”
Ghana’s case count increased from 54,771 at the end of 2020 to 67,010 as at 31st of January 2021; with the active number of cases increasing from 842 to 5,358 within the period. Also, deaths increased by 24% in the month of January, that is from 335 on 31st December 2020 to 416 on 31st January 2021. As a result, the President of the Republic, Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo Addo on Sunday 31st of January 2021 reintroduced restrictions on funerals, weddings and the operations of some categories of hospitality and entertainment providers.
There are fears that there will be stricter measures if these fail to reverse the current trend and this could have serious impact on business as it did the last time. For instance, a COVID-19 Business Tracker Survey conducted by the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) showed that “about 770,000 workers (25.7% of the total workforce), had their wages reduced and about 42,000 employees were laid off during the country’s COVID-19 partial lockdown” in 2020. The lockdown also resulted in a “reduction in working hours for close to 700,000 workers” and generally resulted in businesses experiencing a reduction “in supply and demand for goods and services.”
In spite of these, Mr. Asante believes continuous preparation particularly in the area of infrastructure and dissemination of information on the virus should help contain any fallouts from the increasing infections. Government announced its plans and efforts to receive some amount of vaccines in the first and second quarters of this year. This, he hopes will help “restore confidence, particularly in the flow of business across the world, thereby helping trade.”
He also opines that, there is the need to proceed with caution as new and deadlier strains emerge since that could easily unravel all gains leading to disruption of business plans and strategies for 2021. He remains optimistic that “by adhering strictly to the COVID–19 protocols, we will overcome the challenge. We must remain committed to a future where today’s investments especially in technology, will create long term value and sustainability for all of us. We must maintain and even heighten our vigilance because the second wave has proven to be deadlier.”
On FBNBank’s measures to ensure safety at the workplace, Mr. Asante mentioned that, the Bank had activated its business continuity plan before the latest update by the President. According to him, the FBNBank is implementing a shift system for staff, and ensures that they feel comfortable and safe coming to work, both at the branches and the head office. He added that, for those customers who need to come to the branches to conduct business, the protocols are in place for their safety, even as they are encouraged to use the Bank’s digital platforms.