The spread of the Covid-19 virus has presented an unparalleled challenge for society, academia and the social sciences. Whilst the medical and scientific establishment have mobilised to respond to the outbreak, discussions around how social science will both impact and be impacted by Covid-19 have been more muted and often secondary to scientific concerns, yet they remain, now more than ever, necessary. “At the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences, we acknowledge that it cannot be business as usual. Our focus and priority continue to be serving and supporting the humanities and social sciences community in any way we can, particularly when requested. We have put all necessary arrangements and with all measures in place, we are confident that our systems will enable us to continue with operations remotely”, says Prof Sarah Mosoetsa, CEO of the NIHSS. There is little doubt that an effective response to Covid-19 will require social scientific expertise. As with previous epidemics, such as Ebola, social science research and expertise have proven invaluable in combatting infectious diseases and contributing to epidemiology and public health, which are themselves both examples of multidisciplinary fields that from their inception have been strongly influenced by a wide range of social science disciplines. Covid-19 has already presented itself as a deeply social issue. Public health measures taken to prevent the spread of the virus, from hand-washing, self-isolation to city lockdowns, all require insights from social research if they are to be effective. “The effects of social distancing on families, education and psychological wellbeing pose yet more challenges for social researchers. Even the way in which information about the virus is communicated, is again a key area in which social research can make real contributions. In all these areas and more, social science has an important role to play, by directly contributing to policy, but also by acting as a critical friend, which raises the urgent question: how can this wealth of knowledge and expertise best be communicated?”, adds Prof Mosoetsa. As President Ramaphosa said, “Covid-19 is a real threat to the livelihoods of our people. We all agree that our country is in an extreme position that requires extraordinary measures, but that also requires that we should find a way of working together, in solidarity as well as in partnership.” The Institute therefore welcomes, any information and advice on how best we can continue to support each other.
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