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COVID-19, Global mobility: outlook for the future

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally altered global mobility, having brought the world to a halt. Many countries have implemented coronavirus-related travel restrictions and border shutdowns, creating an unprecedented impact on mobility.

Clearly, COVID-19-related disruptions have impacted the ease of global migration and are likely to have longer-term impacts as the world battles to contain this global pandemic.

This article will examine the impact of COVID-19 on Global Migration and an outlook of significant changes that are taking place and will continue to take place soon.

Global Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Over the years, economies, cultures, and populations of the world have become increasingly interdependent as a result of cross-border trade in goods and services, technology, and flow of investment, people, and information, enabled by technological advancement. However, nations and individuals have had to scramble for safety with the advent and rapid spread of the coronavirus.

The virus has extended beyond its origin, across borders, nations, generations and social strata, ravaging the society and leaving catastrophic damage in its wake. Incidentally, the same advancement, which had enabled cross-border travels at previously unimaginable speeds and volume, has increased the global spread of the virus.

Various governments across the world have implemented measures to halt the spread of the virus in their countries. Such measures include suspending international travel, shutting down airspace and airports, closing land borders, and launching lockdown procedures. For instance:

  • The United States has closed its northern and southern land borders to all non-essential traffic, and imposed land-border restrictions with both Canada and Mexico. Individuals, who were physically present in the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Schengen Area, Iran, and the People’s Republic of China during the 14-day period preceding their attempted entry into the United States, are barred from entering. In addition, the U.S. administration, on May 24, 2020, issued a proclamation imposing a travel suspension for individuals who have been to Brazil within the 14 days preceding their intended entry into the United States, till further notice, because of the widespread transmission of COVID-19 in Brazil.
  • Australia plans to keep its borders closed for at least another three to four months and restrict travel in-light-of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Although the city of Wuhan in China has lifted transportation control measures and resumed external traffic, authorities in Beijing closed the capital to tourism on June 13, after a new cluster of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases was confirmed in the city. Travel restrictions have also been imposed on Anxin County as cases increase rapidly.

On August 12, China eased Covid-19 travel restrictions for Europeans. The new rules will allow European passport holders from 36 countries – including France, Germany and the UK – with a valid residence permit to apply for a Chinese visa without an invitation letter.

  • Argentina closed its borders to non-residents with effect from 15 March 2020. The Argentine authorities announced the extension of the mandatory lockdown for the Buenos Aires metropolitan region until 30 August 2020.
  • The Federal Government of Nigeria eased the full lockdown previously instituted in the Federal Capital Territory, and states of Lagos and Ogun on 4 May 2020, and introduced new measures such as night-time curfew, compulsory use of masks, closure of schools, clubs and places of worship etc. to curb the spread of the virus.
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The Government has also announced plans to resume operation of international flights at the Lagos and Abuja airports from 5 September 2020.

   How Organisations are Responding to COVID-19 Disruption

The supply of migrant labour, which is the driving force of a globalised economy and thus an essential element of the global economy, has been adversely affected by the global pandemic and the attendant closure of borders implemented to curb the spread of the virus.

As a result, the working world has been forced to switch from business as usual to cautious travel, office closures, and work-from-home guidelines, in addition to implementing protocols for handwashing, and use of sanitisers and facemasks.

Some measures that have been taken to mitigate the economic impact of the COVID-19 strain on businesses include the following:

  • Implementation of a virtual work policy. Before COVID-19, many organisations viewed the idea of remote working with skepticism. Unfortunately, the virus gave no room for preparation and threw organizations into deep waters where they must swim or sink, in terms of the implementation of remote working.
  • Some companies have advised employees whose work cannot be performed remotely to go on leave, while some have furloughed their redundant workers.
  • Special effort is being made in companies where remote work is not possible, to ensure workspace cleanliness and social distancing by staggering shifts and spacing out work on manufacturing floors.

Outlook for the Future

The COVID-19 pandemic is a humanitarian challenge that will have lasting effects on how people live and work. As many parts of the world cautiously reopen by easing travel restrictions and lockdown policies, there are signs that the following would take place in the near future:

  • Reduced need for travel: With various forms of travel restrictions expected to be in place to prevent the spread of the virus, more people, including global employees, would continue to work remotely.
  • Greater dependence on technology: It is expected that organisations will continue to leverage technology in service delivery and ensure the continued engagement of their employees. Additional investment is expected to be made to provide required technology tools to achieve significant results with limited physical contact.
  • Cost optimisation: Many organisations are expected to continue to implement measures to recover from the losses brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. These would also lead to cuts in travel budgets as greater dependence is placed on using cutting-edge technology to facilitate virtual meetings and collaboration. Expenses, which would have otherwise been incurred on obtaining visas and permits, travel, accommodation, and other expenses for global employees and business visitors, would be significantly reduced.
  • Massive job loss for employees in the travel and tourism industry: The World Travel and Tourism Council has estimated that the COVID-19 could cut 75 million jobs in the travel and tourism industry. Some employers in the industry have already laid off staff, while some others have ceased paying their employees until business situations improve. This trend is expected to continue.
  • Automation of screening processes at ports of entry/departure: Social distancing and restrictions on physical contact have magnified the importance of digitisation, particularly in terms of traveller experience. More countries would be expected to introduce automated processes at the ports of exit and entry to minimise physical contact with travellers.
  • Border control authorities would be expected to adopt a forward-looking approach of running watchlist checks to determine admissibility into any country. More countries would also be expected to further automate the process of issuing immigration facilities.
  • There would be additional requirements for issuance of visas as well as entry into different countries, such as evidence of vaccination for COVID-19 (or other deadly virus) to prevent the importation of the virus.
  • There may be a significant increase in cost of air-travel tickets since airlines would not be able to fly full capacity in line with social distancing protocols.
  • Hazard allowance may be provided as incentive for expatriates whose physical presence is required in the host country to carry out their work.
  • Increase in demand for outsourced services – Organisations would be expected to outsource certain parts of their operations, especially those related to Business Support, in order to promote cost-efficiency and financial agility.
  • In situations where foreign technical expertise is still required, the company’s compensation and benefits scheme may be restructured to only cater for the employed expatriates without their dependants. In the same vein, these expatriate employees may choose to keep their families away from their foreign work locations to prevent possible exposure to the COVID-19 and other deadly diseases.
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Conclusion

There is no gainsaying the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world forever. However, it is not all doom and gloom as people will become resilient and would continue to evolve to address this challenge and future challenges to ensure continued survival.

We must stay ahead of the curve by embracing the new normal, because, “the pandemic represents a rare but narrow window of opportunity to reflect, reimagine, and reset our world.”

Thisday

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