Are African countries easing lockdown too early?
As part of our now regular series of infographics on how COVID19 is affecting the African continent, and how governments in the 55 countries are responding, this week we provide an update on what preventive measures African countries have put into place to “flatten the curve”.
The last time we explored this question (two weeks ago – here) our main finding was that the majority of African governments were taking social distancing seriously, and several establishing very strong “stay-home” lockdown strategies. We also found that the majority of African countries had started social distancing early – 69% before they recorded 10 cases.
This week’s picture is more complex. Overall, over the last 2 weeks, we have seen 16 African countries ease their social distancing policies, and 7 tighten them. Why so many easing? For some countries, such as Angola, Gabon, Mauritius, Rwanda, South Africa and Uganda, by now citizens have been in full lockdown mode for a month or more as a containment policy. Many countries are also facing rising costs of containing their economies, especially the informal sector, while the logistics of helping vulnerable people are becoming more complex. Policy makers have seen cases slow, and are now ready to see if easing can work. Slowly, cautiously, scientifically if possible. Many are replacing lockdowns with curfews and mandatory facemasks in public spaces alongside the basic social distancing measures, while pushing up domestic production by local textiles and apparel factories to repurpose as well as small-scale tailors to meet demand for masks.
But there is a new development this week – countries are starting to ramp up testing as a means to understand and control the virus. Take Djibouti as a leading example, a least developed nation which is testing more people per million of its population than two success cases South Korea and Vietnam. Others should soon be able to follow suit, now that each African country has at least 47,000 testing kits, donated from the Jack Ma Foundation, with more donations from others as well as home-grown low-cost testing solutions emerging in Senegal and Ghana.
What is the result? A very mixed picture. While the number of cases on the continent continue to rise, deaths are rising more slowly, and recovery rates are increasing – as high as 95% in Mauritius, which has not seen a new case for over a week. But there are still some countries seeing significant rises over the past few week – including Sudan, Guinea-Bissau, Central African Republic and South Sudan. And there are still at least 13 African countries that have not completed over 1,000 tests.
Nevertheless, it is still too difficult to confirm whether these mixed efforts by African countries are flattening the curve in Africa. We are still not seeing the kinds of exponential rises that we have seen in the rest of the world, but one explosion of cases in one country could put the entire continent back weeks.
With this evidence in mind – our recommendation to African governments is to continue ramping up the economic and poverty support measures we explored last week in tandem, test more, and keep going strong. The early lockdown measures countries implemented weeks ago still have a chance of working for Africa.
Check out the data below.
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Special thanks go to Rosie Wigmore, Angela Benefo, Wang Yu and Rosie Flowers for their work on the graphic and collecting/analysing the underlying data.
The data was collated from a range of sources including: BBC Africa; government websites and media reports, the IMF policy tracker; the US Chamber COVID19 Dashboard; Our World in Data, and the Oxford Government Response tracker. Our methodology is entirely in-house, based on analysis of social distancing categories.
If you spot any gaps, please send your feedback to us at DRteam@developmentreimagined.com, we will aim to verify and rectify asap.