THE United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) has proposed various coronavirus exit strategies following the imposition of lockdowns that helped suppress the disease, but with devastating economic consequences.
BY ANDREW KUNAMBURA
At least 42 African countries applied partial or full lockdowns in their quest to curtail the pandemic.
The ECA report comes at a time Zimbabwe is at crossroads regarding how to proceed when the current extended lockdown period expires on Sunday.
The Zimbabwean government is, on the one hand, caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place as it can ill-afford to prolong the lockdown amid an imploding economy while, on the other, cases of coronavirus infections continue on a steady increase, according to conservative official statistics.
Zimbabwe’s health delivery system is also on its knees due to shortages of drugs, equipment and staff and would be unable to cope with increased COVID-19 cases.
The ECA estimates that a month-long full lockdown across Africa would cost the continent about 2,5% of its annual gross domestic product, equivalent to about US$65,7 billion per month.
This is separate from and in addition to the wider external impact of COVID-19 on Africa and of lower commodity prices and investment flows.
Zimbabwe’s ailing economy is expected to shrink by 7,5% this year owing to the effects of the pandemic, according to recent International Monetary Fund predictions.
In the report titled COVID-19: Lockdown Exit Strategies for Africa, the ECA proposes seven exit strategies that provide sustainable, albeit reduced, economic activity.
The lockdowns came with serious challenges for Africa’s economies, including a drop in demand for products and services, lack of operational cashflow, reduction of opportunities to meet new customers, businesses were closed, issues with changing business strategies and offering alternative products and services, a decline in worker productivity from working at home, logistics and shipping of products, and difficulties in obtaining supplies of raw materials essential for production.
Among the most sensitive issues facing policymakers is the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns on food security.
The strategies were identified from proposals and trials around the world. They are assessed according to the extent to which each strategy minimises uncertainty over fatalities.
The proposals include improving testing, lockdown until preventive or curative medicines are developed, contact tracing and mass testing, immunity permits, gradual segmented reopening, adaptive triggering and mitigation.
“Under adaptive triggering, nations can ease lockdown once infections decline and re-impose if they begin to rise above intensive care capacity. These would require regular shutdowns lasting two-thirds of the year, making little difference to permanent lockdowns from an economic perspective. African healthcare capacity is limited, meaning capacity would quickly be exceeded, potentially resulting in fatalities,” ECA said in the report.
“Mitigation gradually allows the infection to spread across the population with some social distancing measures in place. It is reportedly working in Sweden, where an estimated 25%-40% of Stockholm have contracted COVID-19, but relies on good adherence to basic social distancing measures and strong healthcare capacity. This could imply considerable risk in African populations with low healthcare access and unknown comorbidities,” ECA recommended.
According to the report, firms surveyed by the ECA reported to be operating at only 43%, 70% of slum dwellers report that they are missing meals or eating less as a result of COVID-19.
Lockdowns, the report notes, forestall severe vulnerabilities, and that testing, contact tracing and easing restrictions may be possible for countries with sufficient public health systems and that have contained COVID-19 transmission, put in place preventive measures, engaged and educated communities, and minimised risks to vulnerable groups.
“Gradual segmented reopening may be needed in countries where containment has failed with further measures to suppress the spread of the disease being required where the virus is still spreading. The spread of the virus is still accelerating in many African countries on average at 30% every week.”
The report urges Africa to learn from the experiences of other regions.
Africa has 63 325 confirmed cases, 2 290 deaths and 21 821 recoveries, according to Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.