Easing vs. Extending COVID-19 Restrictions in Africa

Temi Ibirogba, Program and Research Associate, Center for International Policy Africa Program

A crowded market in Accra (Source: Erin Johnson)

On April 23, South Africa, the epicenter of Africa’s coronavirus outbreak (4,793 cases), announced that it will begin to ease its countrywide lockdown on 1 May to mitigate the economic losses created by stay at home orders. West African countries Ghana (1550 cases) and Burkina Faso (632 cases), also announced similar moves last week for the same reasons: their economies simply can’t handle lockdown restrictions. This brings up the pressing question that countries around the world have been facing regardless of their global economic positions, is it better to stay at home and save lives or return back to work and mitigate the economic fallout of a recession?

Countries like Nigeria (1273 cases) and Tunisia (949 cases) believe the former is most important at the moment. On 17 April, the North African country announced a second extension of its lockdown which began over a month ago and will now end on 4 May. Nigerian governors agreed to a two-week interstate lockdown last Wednesday with the hopes that a decentralized response will help decrease the spread of cases in the country. The range of actions by African governments speaks to the diversity of strategies among African nations’ response to the coronavirus. For the past two months, a majority of countries — barring examples like Burundi and Tanzania whose leaders propose praying to God as a policy recommendation — have been on the same page on the importance of lockdown orders. But now as we edge closer to May, there appears to be an emerging difference of opinion in what countries believe to be the best approach. And this is fair considering that different countries have varying levels of confirmed cases. Botswana (22 cases) will have an understandably different approach to Morocco (4120 cases). But what is alarming is countries like Ghana (1550 cases) who lifted its lockdown, despite a high number of cases, because of improved testing and the “severe” impact the order was having on the country’s poor . It’s also important to note that countries with low confirmed cases may only have those small numbers due to a lack of testing. If countries like this are to relax lockdown restrictions while simultaneously having poor testing, this could be disastrous.

While South Africa is initiating its new policy in phases which seems to be the smarter approach, Ghana appears to have gone back to “normal” just a day after President Nana Aukfo-Addo ended the three-week lockdown. So far, most African countries have done well to recognize the dangers of their weak healthcare infrastructure and have chosen to implement strict stay at home orders to make up for this liability. Countries like Ghana and South Africa, who are moving away from stay at home orders, are certainly providing leadership. Whether it is good or bad leadership remains to be seen.

The Center for International Policy Africa Program analyzes U.S. foreign policy toward the nations of Africa to promote greater positive U.S. engagement

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