While very little is still known about the virus, much is known about its impact on the global economy, especially in the face of lockdowns experienced in respective countries across the world. This response strategy, deployed to deal with the pandemic, has led to disruptions in the global market and has hit emerging markets the hardest. Add to this, the high degree of uncertainties looming in every corner of the globe and you have a fusion of what economic experts refer to as ‘a perfect storm’ with particular reference to Africa.
This is not to say that the lockdown has not been effective, it has. At the time of writing this article, the continent has a little over 70,000 cases with 2,500 confirmed dead. However, data is lacking to spotlight the victims of poverty and those dependent across Africa. This simply means that sooner or later, the lockdown will be over, leading to the questions – have we learnt enough? and are strategies being deployed at exiting lockdowns optimally planned to negatively impact businesses lesser?
A minimum of 42 African countries applied partial or full lockdowns in their response in fighting this pandemic. According to a report recently released by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, it is estimated that for every month Africa was on lockdown, the continent lost about 2.5% of its annual GDP (about USD65.7b per month) and this is exclusive of, and in addition to, the wider external impact of the pandemic – lower commodity prices and lower investment flows.
There are real fears that the pandemic has not yet peaked in Africa and, regardless of the low numbers, a real health emergency is in the offing if this crisis is not timely and properly managed. To this end, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa has proffered a number of strategies to apply to exit the lockdowns in less risk averse and sustainable manner. The strategies, having been tested in other parts of the world, weigh more on the side of caution leading to reduced economic activity when compared with pre-lockdown periods. Bearing in mind that there are still risks involved, it is sufficient to conclude that shared insights still ponder on the dilemma of losing our continental wealth or losing lives. Clearly, it will take the public and private sectors synergizing on multiple strata and working together towards a desired Africa.
The strategies that governments across the continent should explore include (1) increase testing; (2) lockdown strategically until preventive or curative medicines are discovered and proven (3) Intensify messaging and deepen communications (4) Deploy mass contact tracing and testing; (5) Explore immunity permits; (6) Research claims of local vaccines and invest (7) Consider gradual segmented reopening; (8) Apply adaptive triggering; (9) Mitigate risks; and (10) Extend and optimize solutions across the health space.
The most viable strategies should be based on these two areas; firstly, the fact that Africa’s healthcare system cannot bear the strain of a full blown pandemic and as such, while caution needs to be applied, improving public health across the continent becomes highly prioritized with governments removing all the bottlenecks to create an investor friendly environment; and secondly, Africa’s strategy must be customized to suit Africa and its nuances accepting the given that adopting what works for advanced economies does not optimally work in Africa.
Likewise, private sector should complement governments as countries begin to open up again. Optimally, businesses should consider extending the ‘work-from-home’ approach with essential operations only conducted as necessary on business sites. A large percentage of the business segment appears to increase productivity and triple benefits when assessed, creating steady social contact with colleagues and business networks albeit virtually, the downside being the suspicions that follow the notion of ‘not actually earning your day’s work’ as normal office time was eclipsed. A second option would be placing people on furlough where affordable, a difficult option in respect of economic viability to keep many more people off the streets.
For lessons learnt, businesses must continue to place priority on workplace health and hygiene by ensuring physical distancing, handwashing and face masking. More attention should also be given to medical insurance and spread to include secondary dependents – domestic staff, lower cadre office staff as people who would not ordinarily have access to health insurance even though they work.