Despite low virus cases, Africa faces risks - GulfToday

Despite low virus cases, Africa faces risks

Covid-19 in Africa

A member of medical staff swabs the mouth of a resident during a COVID-19 testing campaign in Lenasia, South Africa. Reuters

The coronavirus has hit a good number of economies around the world and Africa is no exception.

In South Africa, load shedding is on the anvil. State-owned utility Eskom’s power cuts will probably make things worse, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on Wednesday.

The global lender in 2020 approved a $4.3 billion emergency loan for South Africa.

South Africa’s gross domestic product grew quarter on quarter in the three months ending in December, led by expansion in manufacturing, construction and trade, but the economy recorded its biggest annual contraction in seven decades in 2020.

South Africa’s economy, which was in recession before the COVID-19 pandemic, deteriorated sharply last year after the government imposed a strict lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus. A report in October last year said that recovery among Africa’s major economies will be mixed and mostly tepid.

The coronavirus hit spending in Africa that year and in particular hampered economies that either export raw commodities or depend on tourism, as the pandemic stymied global economic activity.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s economy will not rebound to pre-pandemic growth levels until 2022 with major economies likely to take even longer to recover, the International Monetary Fund wrote in a report.

The African labour market is driven by imports and exports and with the lockdown everywhere in the world, it means basically that the economy is frozen in place.

Unless the disease’s spread can be controlled, up to 50 per cent of all projected job growth in Africa will be lost as aviation, the service industry, exports, mining, agriculture and the informal sector all suffer, UNDP Regional Director for Africa Ahunna Eziakonwa remarked last year.

The UN Economic Commission for Africa (Uneca) has meanwhile said the pandemic could seriously hinder already stagnant growth, with oil-exporting nations like Nigeria and Angola losing up to £52bn in revenue as prices tumble.

Economies in sub-Saharan Africa are regarded as especially at risk because many are heavily indebted and some struggle just to implement their budgets under less stressful circumstances.

A report in April last year said that Africa is facing the “complete collapse of economies and livelihoods” unless the spread of coronavirus can be contained.

More than half of the continent’s 54 countries have imposed lockdowns, curfews, travel restrictions and other measures in a bid to prevent the local transmission of the virus.

A report last year said Africa has so far been spared the worst impact of the coronavirus, but the World Health Organisation is worried the continent could face a “silent epidemic” if its leaders do not prioritise testing for it, a WHO envoy said on Monday.

“My first point for Africa, my first concern, is that a lack of testing is leading to a silent epidemic in Africa. So we must continue to push leaders to prioritise testing,” WHO’s special envoy Samba Sow told a news conference.

Africa has so far recorded just 8,000 cases of COVID-19 and 334 deaths, while 702 people have recovered, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

The WHO’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said Africa was the region with the fewest diagnosed coronavirus cases, accounting for less than 1.5% of the global total and just 0.1% of deaths.

While the region’s most developed country, South Africa has proven itself extremely efficient in responding to the virus, setting up drive-through testing centres and mobile medical units, others are likely to prove far more vulnerable.

Congo has confirmed that its latest cases are not linked to a new Ebola variant but represent a resurgence of its tenth outbreak, the second-largest on record that caused more than 2,200 deaths in 2018-2020.

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