‘African countries spared worst of the pandemic’

21May 2020
New York
The Guardian
‘African countries spared worst of the pandemic’

​​​​​​​THE relatively low number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Africa has raised hopes that African countries may be spared the worst of the pandemic, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said, praising the continent for responding swiftly to the pandemic.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

More than 2,500 people have died of the coronavirus across Africa, with a recent UN report saying the virus is present in all African countries with most recording fewer than 1,000 cases.

Guterres however warned that millions of people in Africa could be pushed into extreme poverty due to the pandemic.

“The pandemic threatens African progress. It will aggravate long-standing inequalities and heighten hunger, malnutrition and vulnerability to disease,” the UN chief executive noted.

Since the pandemic is still in its early days in Africa,  disruption could escalate quickly, he pointed out.

"African countries should also have quick, equal and affordable access to any eventual vaccine and treatment. That must be considered global public goods," he stated.

In his recommendations, Guterres urged international action to strengthen Africa's health systems, maintain food supplies and avoid a financial crisis.

It is also necessary to support education, protect jobs, keep households and businesses afloat, as well as cushioning the continent against lost income and export earnings.

He also advocated a comprehensive debt restructuring framework, starting with a debt standstill for countries unable to service their debts owing to economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The UN report said the low numbers of cases in Africa could be linked to minimal testing and reporting, pointing to a World Health Organization (WHO) warning.

The latter had earlier stated that the pandemic could kill between 83,000 and 190,000 people in 47 African countries in the first year, “mostly depending on governments’ responses."

WHO also warned that the socioeconomic impacts could smoulder for several years, the report intoned.