FILE PHOTO Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA).

Lockdown: success and failures across Africa

“We worry that given the differences in context, even between African countries, lockdown approaches are unlikely to succeed in the region.”

DURBAN – Coronavirus cases in Africa remain on the uptick, including in countries that have eased their lockdown restrictions, as governments are having to balance containment with preserving people’s livelihoods.

The easing of lockdowns appears to be an acknowledgement of those concerns. However, the accelerated increase in the number of Covid-19 cases being witnessed now suggests that previous stay-at-home orders were effective in curbing the spread of the virus.

Salma Abdalla a research fellow at Boston University said: “We worry that given the differences in context, even between African countries, lockdown approaches are unlikely to succeed in the region.”

Rwanda, was one of the first countries to impose a complete lockdown allowing only people working in public and private essential services, including market vendors, to return to their workplaces at the beginning of May. The country is the only sub-Saharan now ranked a “Very low Covid-19 risk”. From the 1st of July citizens and residents of Rwanda can now travel to the European Union.

Kenya, on the other hand, despite having employed partial and targeted measures, such as swift contact tracing exercises and dusk-to-dawn curfew that initially slowed down the spread of virus, has hit a snag. There are emerging signs of setbacks and weaknesses due to increased community transmission that have been attributed to the disjointed and unrealistic nature of Kenya’s Covid-19 control measures.

After three months of enforced lockdown measures, Morocco appears to have beaten the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, statistics show low transmission and death rates and a high recovery rate, indicating Morocco’s relative success in containment.

Some countries decided against lockdowns altogether amid concerns of the socio-economic effects. Benin’s president Patrice Talon did not enforce restrictive measures that, he said, will “starve everybody” and “end up being defied and violated,” adding that the government lacked the “means of rich countries.”

At the start of the pandemic, Ghana’s president Nana Akuffo-Addo declared a lockdown in and around the capital Accra and other urban centres such as Kumasi in the south. The country now ranks among the leading African countries in testing but has registered a high number of cases, even as the lockdown was lifted.

The dilemma also divides South Africans; the country most affected by the pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa. In his address in May President Cyril Ramaphosa said lockdown ‘no longer sustainable’ despite surge in cases. The early, strict lockdown measures, proved to be successful from an epidemiological point of view, but at the cost of economic activity.

In Zimbabwe the government is struggling with an economic and political crisis that has only been worsened by a lockdown. The opposition says the government is using the lockdown to clamp down on civil liberties. Several of their members have been arrested.

Nigeria, the top African economy, may have lost about $18 billion which represents a 38 per cent drop in GDP in just five weeks of lockdown from March to April. The federal government has threatened to impose a fresh lockdown following the increasing rate of Covid-19 cases in the country,the nationwide tally now sits at 29,789.

Meanwhile, Botswana remains one of Africa’s least impacted countries, one of a handful with less than 100 cases of Covid-19. Government has in the past month taken drastic measures including a strict lockdown.

As part of containment measures, wearing of home-made masks have been made obligatory in public. Data collection has also been a key plank of the response as part of contact tracing efforts.

 

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