The political economy of Coronavirus(COVID-19) in Africa

By Bischara Ali Egal

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“It seems, the more there is written about the causes of the Coronavirus – the more the written analyses are overshadowed by a propaganda and fear-mongering hype. Questions for the truth and arguments for where to look for the origins and how the virus may have spread and how to combat it, are lost in the noise of wanton chaos. But isn’t that what the “Black Men” behind this intended pandemic want – chaos, panic, hopelessness, leading to human vulnerability – a people becoming easy prey for manipulation?” Peter Koenig( Former IMF  Economist + consultant)

 

 

  • Introduction: 

 

 What is the Wuhan coronavirus (2019 novel coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, COVID-19)? 

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. Most people infected with the COVID-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment.  Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness.

The best way to prevent and slow down transmission is be well informed about the COVID-19 virus, the disease it causes and how it spreads. Protect yourself and others from infection by washing your hands or using an alcohol based rub frequently and not touching your face.  

The COVID-19 virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes, so it’s important that you also practice respiratory etiquette (for example, by coughing into a flexed elbow).

At this time, there are no specific vaccines or treatments for COVID-19. However, there are many ongoing clinical trials evaluating potential treatments. WHO will continue to provide updated information as soon as clinical findings become available. (1).

 The coronavirus outbreak that began last December in Wuhan, China has escalated into a global pandemic, requiring a coordinated international response to avert catastrophe. A planned, rational deployment of worldwide medical and industrial resources is essential to keep the disease from potentially claiming millions of lives.

The danger of infectious, untreatable and potentially fatal viral outbreaks causing pneumonia has been known for decades. Two different coronaviruses caused regional outbreaks, SARS in 2002–2004, mainly in China, and MERS in 2012–2014, mainly in Saudi Arabia. However, while SARS claimed 774 lives after infecting 8,000 people, and MERS killed 886 after infecting 2,519 over two years, the highly contagious Wuhan coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is spreading worldwide, infecting 81,296 and killing 2,770 in barely two months.

Major outbreaks are surging not only in East Asia, but also in Europe and the Middle East, with 383 cases in Italy and at least 139 in Iran. China has managed to significantly slow the disease’s spread, limiting the number of cases to 78,073, with draconian measures to place hundreds of millions of people under lockdown and shut down much of its economy. However, it is apparent we are only in the initial stages of a global epidemic.

Initially, officials in the United States and internationally tried to downplay the new virus. Even yesterday, President Donald Trump—speaking for the broad sections of the financial aristocracy who look no further than their stock portfolios—took to Twitter to ignorantly berate the media for trying “to make the Caronavirus [sic] look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible. Likewise their incompetent

The Wuhan coronavirus is a single-stranded, positive-sense RNA coronavirus. It is a new strain of coronavirus (means crown) that is causing an outbreak of serious respiratory problems in Wuhan, China. Researchers think it originated from infected animals and jumped over to infecting people in a large open seafood/animal market. Also, the virus is capable of person-to-person transmission, spreading to at least to 16 countries in about 1 month. It is related to the SARS and MERS coronaviruses.2)

 

  • What are the risk factors for Covid-19 infections to Africa?

 

For weeks, sub-Saharan Africa avoided the worst of COVID-19, giving health officials on the continent time to prepare. Now, less than three weeks after the virus has first arrived, it is beginning its spread and will test just how effective those preparations were.Twenty-three countries in the World Health Organization’s Africa region (which excludes much of North Africa) are now reporting COVID-19 cases, and the number is rising daily, it is now over 40 nations  . Many of the initial cases appear to be travelers arriving from Europe or other destinations. Countries made airport screening central to their response, and it has been successful in identifying some patients. Still, others were able to slip through because the infection may not show symptoms for up to two weeks. Some confirmed cases have been entirely asymptomatic but contagious, making screening alone unsuitable for containment.

African Countries are finding themselves well prepared than they would have been if the virus had arrived months ago. Forty nations now have at least one laboratory equipped to test for COVID-19. But there are still significant gaps in health systems that will be exposed as the virus spreads and forces the sickest to seek hospitalization. The WHO is pushing countries to do everything they can to contain the spread of the virus and limit the number of quarantined populations and encourage the following WHO clinical guidelines:- 3) 

  1. Critical  country preparedness, readiness and response actions:
  2. Responding to community spread of Covid-19
  3. Operational considerations for case management of COVID-19 in health facility and community.
  4. Maintaining a safe and adequate blood supply during the pandemic outbreak of cronavirus disease(COVID-19) 

 

If the spread follows the trajectory of what happened in parts of China, Italy and Spain, it will quickly overwhelm health systems and could result in high death rates. “South Africa, which has one of the more developed health care systems in sub-Saharan Africa, had only a little over 4,100 ICU beds in 2008. While we couldn’t find a more recent number, it is unlikely to be significantly higher today. Even if we assume that ICU capacity has doubled in the past decade, it is generally accepted that at least half of a country’s ICU capacity has to be dedicated to non-COVID-19 cases. With about 5% of COVID-19 cases requiring intensive care, this best-case scenario would see South Africa’s health system collapse under the weight of more than 82,000 concurrent COVID-19 cases. At infection rates experienced by European countries, this number would be reached within a month at the most and assuming less than a best-case scenario within a couple of weeks.”4

That is even before considering the high rates of HIV and tuberculosis infections in sub-Saharan Africa – diseases that already weaken a patient’s immune system and might make them more vulnerable to COVID-19. At the same time, health experts don’t want to stigmatize these patients or raise unnecessary alarm.

Working in sub-Saharan Africa’s favor is that it has a disproportionately young population, and the impact of the virus does not appear to be as severe on younger people as on older age groups. And because the arrival of COVID-19 was delayed, leaders on the continent – who are clearly paying close attention to the virus’s spread – can also draw on the experiences in other contexts and avoid the failings of other global leaders. African countries made airport screening central and mandatory responses and it has been successful in identifying. Community lockdown, and social distancing with vigorous enforcement mechanism to curtail, prevent, and stop the spread of the pandemics is the most African countries.

While COVID-19 is an important Public Health concern, the lockdown coupled with an ongoing fear campaign does not constitute an effective means to combating the virus, i.e. by providing target medical assistance and health services to those affected.”

  1. What are COVID-19 economic, political and industrial risks for Africa. 

African countries have already implemented economic and physical disruptions on it global economic and industirla relations with the rest of the world.

  1. Economic and Mining disruptions due to the pandemic.
  2. Collapsing commopdity prices for Africa.
  3. Geo-political impacts on Africa –  China bilateral relations vs –vs with American/EU corporate economic war with China
  4. Transportation, logistical  and commercial disruptions between African markets/resources with the Global markets in China, Europe and America’s.

The Reality, however, is generally more disruptive, as national governments and supranational agencies balance health security, economic and social imperatives on the back of imperfect and evolving intelligence. It’s a governance challenge that may result in long-term consequences for communities and businesses. On top of this, they also need to accommodate human behaviour.

  1. Management dilemmas and falling trust

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is no exception. The disease – an epidemic that could become a global pandemic – emerged in a densely populated manufacturing and transport hub in central China and has since spread to 29 other countries and regions (as of 20 February 2020), carried along by Chinese New Year and international travel. 

In contrast to the Western Africa Ebola emergency of 2013-2016 – more deadly but less contagious, arguably more isolated, and eventually contained in part by richer countries putting money into Africa – COVID-19 presents larger, more interdependent economies with management dilemmas. It has also surfaced at a time of eroding trust within and between countries – with national leadership under pressure from growing societal unrest and economic confrontations between major powers.

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Effective governance of cross-border crises such as pandemics involves preparedness, response and recovery at local, national and international levels. Epidemic preparedness assessments show many countries, especially in regions where new pathogens might emerge, are not well equipped to detect, report and respond to outbreaks. 5)

Response strategies vary, for example: playing up or playing down crises and staying open for business as long as possible versus seeking to reopen quickly. COVID-19 has highlighted tendencies in many countries to deny or cover up red flags in order to avoid economic or political penalties, but this approach can misfire.

COVID-19 has also shown how governance failures may involve inaction or over-zealous action by ill-prepared authorities scrambling to maintain or regain stability. Both ends of the spectrum undermine trust and cooperation among citizens and countries. Centralized control measures may seem necessary to stop or delay the spread of the virus, and compensate for weak individual and community resilience, but may also cause harm. 

Mass quarantines in cities or cruise ships stigmatize those under lockdown and increase mental health risks as people experience stress, anxiety and a sense of isolation and loss of control over their lives. Travel bans result in social, economic and political penalties, which can discourage individuals and government bodies from sharing information and disclosing future outbreaks. Weak or overwhelmed health systems struggle to limit the spread of infection or cope with surging care needs, further reducing confidence in the competence and character of the institutions and individuals in charge. 

Panic spreads faster than pandemics

Social media poses a further challenge to trust: panic spreads faster than pandemics, as global platforms amplify uncertainties and misinformation. Emotionally visceral content from anyone—such as data, anecdotes or speculation that spark fear can go viral and reach far more people than measured, reassuring advice from experts. Even in the absence of human or automated trolls seeking attention or disruption, well-meaning individuals can spread panic worldwide by escalating or misinterpreting early, provisional, or context-free information. Such fear will fray citizens’ trust in governments’ ability to protect them from risk, and increase the likelihood of psychologically defensive and societally damaging measures such as panic-buying and prejudice.

What’s the impact on business?

Where a stringent policy response is deemed necessary, business will inevitably be impacted, with both near-term effects and less-expected longer-run consequences. Travel restrictions and quarantines affecting hundreds of millions of people have left Chinese factories short of labour and parts, disrupting just-in-time supply chains and triggering sales warnings across technology, automotive, consumer goods, pharmaceutical and other industries.

Commodity prices have declined in response to a fall in China’s consumption of raw materials, and producers are considering cutting output.The mobility and work disruptions have led to marked declines in Chinese consumption, squeezing multinational companies in several sectors including aviation, education abroad, infrastructure, tourism, entertainment, hospitality, electronics, consumer and luxury goods.

This will ripple through developed and emerging markets with high dependencies on China – be that in the form of trade, tourism or investment. Some of these countries exhibit pre-existing economic fragilities, others (acknowledging an overlap) have weak health systems and thus lower resilience to pandemics. Many Asian and African countries lack surveillance, diagnostic, and hospital capacities to identify, isolate, and treat patients during an outbreak. Weak systems anywhere are a risk to health security everywhere, increasing the possibility of contagion and the resulting social and economic consequences.6)

Take every precaution. That was the message from a World Health Organization (WHO) briefing Wednesday, one that stressed the need for a comprehensive approach against the COVID-19 coronavirus, even for countries with just a few cases. 

“According to officials, more countries need to isolate, test and trace new cases to effectively suppress and control the virus’ spread. This must be the “backbone of the response in every country”, said the Director-General. 

Countries that have used the “full package” of measures have been able to turn the tide, such as the Republic of Korea, said Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The country educated, empowered and engaged communities, he said. It also expanded lab capacity and exhaustively performed contact tracing.

Where there had once been 800 cases, he said, there are now just 90. “It didn’t surrender,” said the Director-General.”7

Some countries that currently have only sporadic cases have not yet taken steps to cancel mass gatherings or enact social distancing. Those countries should not assume that community transmission will not come to their countries. “Don’t assume you won’t have transmission.”

As the Director-General explained, the virus can accelerate after a tipping point. If you have no cases, he said, it is better to “cut it from the bud”.

Suppression can buy time for additional measures to be developed to treat the infected. The first vaccine trial is under way, explained the officials. Additionally, many countries from Canada to Norway to Argentina have joined a new international Solidarity Trial to study how untested treatments compare.

Suppression can also buy time to ensure that additional tests and the equipment to run them can be manufactured for those who need them. It can also help ensure that the current shortage of face masks, gloves and other pieces of personal protection equipment can be addressed. 

That suppression, however, will take extensive collaboration and coordination. “This virus is presenting as an unprecedented threat,” explained the Director-General. “We can come together against a common enemy, an enemy against humanity.”“The World Health Organization (WHO) is scaling up preparedness efforts for the coronavirus disease, now known as COVID-19, in the African region and supporting countries there to implement the recommendations of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee, which met in Geneva, Switzerland on 30 January. On the advice of the Emergency Committee, the WHO Director-General, declared the COVID-19 outbreak a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).

More recently, the WHO Regional Office for Africa was represented at an emergency meeting of the Minsters of Health in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on 14 February.  Ministers resolved to strengthen coordination and cooperation among Member States, enhance surveillance measures at points of entry, increase public awareness efforts, and to develop a regional preparedness plan.

The WHO Regional Office for Africa is supporting Member States prepare for a potential case of COVID-19 in a number of ways.  WHO has dispatched experts to countries believed to be at higher risk of an outbreak of coronavirus to assist in areas including case management, surveillance and early detections.  Across the continent, WHO is working to increase the capacity of national laboratories to detect COVID-19 by supplying reagents, testing equipment and training for staff &   Essential personal protective equipment has also been dispatched by WHO to some countries in Africa.”7

 

  • Conculusion: 

 

The coronavirus-19 is being reported 24/7 throughout the mainstream media as originating from the wuhan city, in eastern china. And that it originated from humans eating animals such as Bats in a wet and open- market in natural borne microorganism; thus, making china as the Epicenter of Covid-19.

“There is, of course and invitably, another theory. There has been some speculation that as the Trump Administration has constantly raising the isseue of growing Chinese global competitiveness as a direct threat to American national security and econominic dominance, it must might be possible that Washington has created and unleashed the virus in a bid to bring Beijing’s growing economy and military might down a ffew notches.It is, to be sure, hard to belive that even the Trump White House would do something so reckless, but there are precedents for that type of behavior. 

In 2005-9 the American and Isreali governments secretly developed a computer virus called Stuxnet,  which was intended to damage the control and operating systems of Iranian computers being used in that countery’s nuclear research program. Admittedly Stuxnet was intended to damage computers, not tro infect or kill human beings, but concerns that it woulf propaghate and move to infect computers outside Iran proveds to be accurate as it spread to thousands of PCs outside Iran, in countries as far as China, Indonessia, Germany, and Kazakhistan.”8

 

Foot Notes:

By: Prof. Dr. Bischara Ali Egal

The Horn of Africa Center for strategic & International studies(Horncsis.org)

www.Horncsis.org

N.B:This article previously appeared at https://ecoterra.info/index.php/en/1770-the-political-economy-of-covid-19-and-africa
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