In early February, while Western countries like Italy and Spain had recorded confirmed cases of the dreaded novel coronavirus or Covid-19, Africa, the second largest continent and home to more than a billion people had yet to record any. This left many dumbfounded. The good news led to the rise of a bunch of fallacious ideas — that black people were immune to the disease and that the virus was not a match for the tropical heat.
Today, we know the perceived absence of the virus at the time was likely due to the below par testing capacity in the continent, rather than the inexistence of the virus there.
Nonetheless, in recent weeks things seem to have taken a gloomy turn in the continent. News reports tell us the virus has claimed about 1000 lives, including the Chief of Staff to Nigeria’s president.
Although these numbers fall short of anything faced in other parts of the globe, particularly in the US and Italy, the situation remains rather discomforting.
According to a recent report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Covid-19 could claim the lives of an estimated 300,000 Africans this year, even with government measures to limit social interactions and improve social distancing.
This seems possible considering the U.S., the world’s wealthiest nation, with more wealth than all of the continent combined and access to much better healthcare than can be found anywhere on the continent, has lost about 40,000 of its citizens in just three months since the first case was reported.
The situation could get dire if you add to it the projection from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that the global economy is expected to contract sharply by 3% in 2020, making Covid-19 worse than during the 2008 economic recession. This estimate is based on the assumption that the pandemic is beaten back in the second half of 2020, with containment efforts being gradually lifted.
Even more — a tough array of socio-economic issues across the continent, such as poor infrastructure, dearth of social programs to protect the most vulnerable, low standards of living, grossly inadequate healthcare services and so on, could further exacerbate this situation.
Unsurprisingly, such bleak projections paint a dire situation and have attracted drastic actions from African governments, including a temporary shutdown of economic activities across some countries.
Poorer nations are mostly as risk and could experience an economic shock as a result, according to Ian Goldin, a professor of Globalization at Oxford University in England, writing for the U.K. Mail and Guardian. The professor says “We need a global Marshall plan that would write off the $44bn in debt due by African countries in 2020 (an amount that is tiny compared to the $8tn that US and European governments have committed to keeping their businesses alive), and give at least $2.5tn in aid to poor countries, with a single condition: that it is used to alleviate the impact of the pandemic and to write off significant amounts of debt.“
Other actions we’ve seen include calls by former vice president for the Africa region at the World Bank and ex-Nigerian minister, Oby Ezekwesili, for reparations to be paid to African nations by China as a result of the economic disaster caused for its alleged sloppy handling of the virus, the invitation of 15 Chinese doctors to help with the crisis amidst widespread protests in Nigeria, and the ban on the sale and transportation of alcohol during the coronavirus lockdown in South Africa.
But there appears to be some good news in all of this though. Authorities in Mauritania say the northwestern African nation no longer has any known active cases of the virus as of April 21. It sounds very optimistic to expect anything less than an utter disruption of an already challenged continent.