Coronavirus in Africa: Vulnerable Societies Brace for Worse to Come

Written by | Thursday, March 26th, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic was accelerating as the latest figures showed more than 350,000 were infected by the virus with cases in almost every country in the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) said today (24 March), urging all countries to take the offensive in combating the pandemic, including testing and contact tracing. And while European countries, which have suffered badly from COVID-19, have sought to further tighten the measures, governments from Angola to Zimbabwe have taken similar steps, although not as radical. With 45 of the Africa’s 54 nations now affected, many countries across the continent banned public gatherings, shuttered schools, churches, mosques and bars, and closed airports. WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, however, warned that these official figures likely did not reflect the real picture. WTO also expressed concern that poor sanitation, urban crowding and the lack of intensive-care units, equipment and trained staff could slow down any effort to deal with the spreading pandemic.
A 2016 analysis by the Rand Corporation, a US think-tank, found that among the 25 countries around the world that were most vulnerable to infectious outbreaks, 22 were in Africa. It remains to be seen how the coronavirus outbreak will affect the economies and social fabric of North African countries. The confirmed cases within the region are relatively low so far, with the conflict-torn Libya, for example, claiming no infections at all. And the governments‘ awareness of the fragility of their countries‘ health care systems has spawned policies aimed at increasingly isolating North African nations from Europe. With restrictions on entry growing and flights being slashed, North Africa is effectively preparing to self-quarantine. An important question now is what impact will these measures have on individual economies. For example, Morocco and Tunisia have already seen their tourism sectors, key employment areas, badly hit by travel bans, and the economic outlook is grim. It is also not clear how much support North African governments will be able to provide for their citizens in the face of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, with the number of coronavirus infections in the 57-million South Africa rising, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Monday (23 March) a 21-day lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19. Africa’s most industrialized economy has seen an increase in the infections of 47% only between Sunday and Monday, increasing worries of exponential growth and making it the country with the most cases in Africa.Rwanda’s lockdown, which preceded the South Africa’s and was the first on the continent, sent people into a buying frenzy. The closures in Rwanda, which has seen 19 confirmed cases of COVID-19 so far, the highest number in East Africa, threaten to leave many people jobless in a country where employment is mostly informal. In Malawi, health workers are worried about the lack of capacity in the country’s hospitals to handle an outbreak. Ghana’s government has just closed all borders and declared a national fasting and prayer day for Wednesday (25 March) to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

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