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Throughout the world there are 2.6 billion people (one third of the global population) in some form of lockdown or quarantine. What does this mean for us as human beings who are socially wired, what might be the impact of these extraordinary measures and what can we expect after this is over?

Last week I wrote about the stages we will likely experience during this time but our progression through those mental stages will depend on where you are and who you are. If you are with close family  in your comfortable house and your main issue is that you are bored out of your mind and have run out of booze…your experience is one thing whilst if you are stuck in a poky flat on your own with your salary cut and  worried about how to pay your bills at the end of the month and if you’ll be retrenched thereafter – you are likely having a quite different experience.

And it will be the same with regards mental resilience. Some people may take this change in their stride, for others social distancing, government control and loss of routine and life as they know it may be the catalyst for a downward spiral in their mental health.

Some people may feel they should not be locked down and so feel anger and resentment. In neighbouring South Africa, where only 58 people have died, hundreds of thousands of people are facing severe economic hardships and as a result are arguing the merits of being decimated by hunger and poverty rather than the disease.

Which is the lesser of those two evils? Criticism is high, emotions too and if you are government you’re dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t; – if you move too late you cause a lot of people to  die but too early then you are criticized for being gung-ho.  Overkill when your aim was under-kill!

Cognisant of the difference in people’s reactions and experience, I did a straw poll with some staff this week to measure how they feel about the lockdown and if there were any positive spinoffs. Most people only managed to coax out one good outcome and even that was a struggle.

It was clear to me that people were losing more than they were gaining: people used to immersing themselves in the busy-ness of work feel lost; those who rely on the structure of religion and its disciplines feel unanchored; those that use exercise as a mechanism for coping are struggling; family members are in each other’s face and on each other’s nerves etc..

Most miss the office environment and camaraderie. Some feel isolated and find it difficult to work from their dining room table. Others struggle with the self-discipline required or with tech-based meetings and feel uncomfortable with them, even worried about the security and who might be listening in.

The sheer ease of leaning over to connect and speak to a colleague , eye to eye contact and communicating by body  language clearly cannot be replicated from home as many people start to appreciate the validation received day in and day out from co-workers. It feels like the novelty of the challenge and the excitement of change (if it was even there at the beginning) has worn off and what is left is reality – “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

The World Economic Forum recently published an article by Dr Elke Van Hoof, a Professor of health psychology and primary care psychology at the Vrije University in Brussels, entitled ‘Lockdown is the world’s biggest psychological experiment – and we will pay the price’.

The article reported that just before the world went into lockdown The Lancet published a review of 24 studies documenting the psychological impact of quarantine (“restriction of movement of people who have potentially been exposed to a contagious disease”). ‘The review’s finding’,  it said, ‘offered a glimpse of what is brewing in hundreds of millions of households around the world.

People who are quarantined are very likely to develop a range of symptoms of psychological stress and disorder, including low mood, insomnia, stress, anxiety, anger, irritability, emotional exhaustion, depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms’.  ‘Low mood and irritability specifically stand out as being very common’, the study notes.

In China, which it could be said has been there, done that, these expected mental health effects are already being reported in the first research papers about the lockdown. In cases where parents were quarantined with children, the mental health toll became even steeper. In one study, no less than 28% of quarantined parents warranted a diagnosis of “trauma-related mental health disorder”.  In severe instances, reactions may even  be likened to PTSD.

Of course, we still have a way to go with confinement and  will only know what effect all of this will have in the future but it’s good to be aware that what you are experiencing may make you vulnerable and to understand and accept that what is happening is real. Drawing on what we know about psychological care following disasters and let’s face it this is one, there are some recommended guidelines, a few of which HR managers should be thinking about:

  • Make sure self-help interventions are in place that can address the needs of large affected populations.
  • Educate people about the expected psychological impact and reactions to trauma if they are interested in receiving it. Make sure people understand that a psychological reaction is normal.
  • Launch a specific website to address psychosocial issues.
  • Make sure that people with acute issues can find the help that they need

The bottom line is that sooner or later restrictions will be lifted but the psychological impact will undoubtedly linger for some considerable time, as will the very real  personal  financial implications.   It’s fair to say that whilst most people will not catch the disease, the after-effects and slow recovery will be experienced by almost everyone.  It’s a phrase I’m hearing more and more often and all too true – that the cure may ultimately prove worse than the disease.

In China, which it could be said has been there, done that, these expected mental health effects are already being reported in the first research papers about the lockdown. In cases where parents were quarantined with children, the mental health toll became even steeper. In one study, no less than 28% of quarantined parents warranted a diagnosis of “trauma-related mental health disorder”.  In severe instances, reactions may even  be likened to PTSD .

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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