COVID-19: Increased burden of the pandemic in Africa

By Timi Olubiyi

THE novel coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic has had far-reaching consequences across the globe. The continent of Africa has recorded over 702,663 COVID-19 cases, and there is already a concern on the growing number of countries experiencing sharp rise in cases.

According to available data, cases have more than doubled in many countries in Africa over the past months. Consequently, nearly two-thirds of countries are experiencing community transmission. Countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa have accounted for about 71 per cent of COVID-19 cases in Africa.

South Africa alone accounts for 43 per cent of the continent’s total cases. Nonetheless, with current observations in Africa, the number of cases and deaths is still quite low compared to other continents.

It is still unclear whether the reason for the smaller amounts of confirmed cases on the continent is due to the lack of adequate testing capacity or that the virus is genuinely not affecting as many people on the continent as other areas in the world.

But with the continued increase of infections, it is hard to be pre-emptive on the economic consequences, especially since it’s a health-related issue. Nevertheless, one thing is sure: coronavirus is a significant risk to households, businesses, including the global economy.

As noted, a large number of the people living in Africa do not have access to protective material, particularly masks and adequate diet with fruits and vegetables that would ordinarily strengthen immunity.

This situation will be a crucial factor in the case of a potential major outbreak. From context observation, the pressing questions about COVID-19, particularly in Africa, are: How long will it last? When are we to see post-COVID era?

How many people will the virus affect before a reversal of trend is noticed? How do workers get adequate protection? But the answers to these questions can be summarised thus:  COVID-19 has brought about a new normal, and it’s not likely to go away swiftly.

That said, COVID-19 continues to put pressure globally on nations, health care systems, and on markets and businesses, large and small. In Africa, it is already causing untold human suffering across the continent and indeed strain on the healthcare systems.

One of the most critical implications of COVID-19 is that it affects every aspect of living: economy, business, governance and regulations. Still, the severity is more on a weak economy, like in Africa where most of the countries are largely developing.

In my opinion, the pandemic will change the world forever and will probably leave a permanent impact, particularly on households, countries, businesses and their operations.

According to Dr. Ngozi Erondu, an associate fellow in the Global Health Programme at Chatham House in London, it had been observed that the virus has a more severe impact on people with underlying health conditions.

So, it is logical to hypothesise that Africa may see more severe COVID-19 infections, a malnourished population, malaria and other infections.

Currently, the pandemic has shattered and disrupted businesses, households, markets and also exposed the competence and otherwise of governments across the globe. It, therefore, seems highly unlikely that the world will return to the pre-COVID-19 era.

For instance, countries with technological, economic and advanced healthcare system, such as the US, China, the UK, Spain and Italy are struggling to put an end to the spread of the virus at every cost. More worrisome is the situation in Africa where deficits are in infrastructure and health care system, amongst others.

Therefore, as a nation, government, business owner, entrepreneur or SME operator, the concerns about the current realities and developments are key, and the need to equally track the progress of the outbreak is necessary going forward.

This will help in no small measure come up with ideas to scale through the difficult time the outbreak has presented. The emergence of the coronavirus in Africa is a lousy indicator for economic performance. The continent is currently struggling with development in all known sectors, particularly on areas identified above.

Consequently, the continent is at high risk in these circumstances if the spread is not curtailed immediately. Many may lose their lives due to a lack of adequate healthcare and financial support as palliatives.

With the continued spike in cases of COVID-19 in Africa, it might harm bilateral cross-border relations, healthcare system, inflow of foreign direct investments, employments, imports and export trades, capital markets, industrial activity, tourism, air travels, social events, schools; and more than likely, it might disrupt or crash the economic forecasts and revenue estimates of the nations in Africa.

Besides, in countries with weak institutions and legacies of political instability, coronavirus can increase political stresses and tensions. If the outbreak grows, citizens will continually face financial difficulties, and the government will equally experience diminished tax revenues, which may exacerbate fiscal stresses caused by increased expenditures, where tax systems are weaker, and government budgetary constraints are more severe.

This arrival might cause inflation and equally impact negatively on many businesses, particularly SMEs given high uncertainty around production and demand if the virus continues to spread.

Evidence has also suggested that pandemics can have significant social and political consequences, such as clashes between countries and citizens, erode disposable income, increase the level of poverty, and heightening social tension and discrimination. The pandemic can equally amplify political tensions and spark unrest, particularly in a fragile country with legacies of violence and weak institutions.

Among citizenry and businesses, significant reductions in income and revenue are inevitable, massive contraction in economic activity, the collapse of international trade, a rise in unemployment, reduced productivity, disruptions to regular operations, and in some cases, business closures.

Now more than ever, businesses, governments and households need to devise a strategy to mitigate the impact of the pandemic. Business models need to be reviewed, and public policies will surely need amendments; household planning and budgets will need to be reconsidered. Further to this, adequate contingency plans is required to face the current realities in all ramification.

Still, investment could still be concentrated more by governments of Africa on health, education and infrastructure development. If infrastructure is improved, the economy of Africa will experience significant bloom because it will impact on non-oil sector and create job opportunities.

Further to this, due to the impact of the COVID-19, heads of governments in Africa can include further economic stimuli to non-oil sectors to boost production, reduce job loss, and enhance economic activities especially the agriculture and SME sectors.

As it stands, the SMEs are significant to economic growth and development in any clime, therefore governments in Africa need to remove factors that have continued to impede the performance and survival of the SME sector such as erratic power supply, decrepit infrastructure, excessive regulations and tax burden among others.

As the outbreak of novel coronavirus is not likely to disappear in the near future, a new normal has been established. A post-pandemic looks like a marathon run; therefore, to stem the tide of the COVID19, proactive international action is required not only to save lives but also to protect economic prosperity. The new normal is likely even to shape monetary and fiscal policies of nations of Africa.

Dr. Olubiyi, an entrepreneurship and small business management expert, can be reached via: drtimiolubiyi@gmail.com

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