Just How Badly Is COVID-19 Going To Impact Africa? WHO Weighs In With New Report

Egypt currently has the highest number of deaths on the continent.


Yamkela Mdaka |

Numbers, numbers and more numbers – we’ve been inundated with these for the past two months as COVID-19 takes centre stage globally. And as the number of positive cases continues to rise, the question on most people’s minds is this: When is this going to end, and how bad is it going to be when it does?

A new report by the World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa published earlier this month looked to somewhat answer these questions by sharing model-based projections of how the disease might impact the African continent.

The report looked at 47 countries in the WHO African Region – a population of 1 billion (it’s important to note that all 54 countries on the continent have been affected by COVID-19). As of 26 April, Africa currently stands at 115 892 identified cases of COVID-19. Of those cases there have been 46 553 recoveries, 3 479 deaths and there are currently 65 860 active cases. With 783 people having passed away due to the virus, Egypt has the highest number of deaths on the continent.

WHO projections

The WHO report estimates that between 83 000 and 190 000 people could die as a result of the virus and further estimates that between 29 million and 44 million could get infected in the first year of the virus (March 2020 – March 2021 in South Africa). These numbers are projected to be Africa’s reality if containment measures fail.

To date, the United States of America has seen close to 100 000 deaths (99 807 as of 26 May) – their first case of the virus was reported on 20 January 2020. While the WHO report paints a grim picture, the estimates suggest that Africa as a continent will not feel the brunt of this virus in the same way that other parts of the world, like the USA and some European countries, have.

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“While COVID-19 likely won’t spread as exponentially in Africa as it has elsewhere in the world, it likely will smoulder in transmission hotspots,” Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, said in a statement.

The report went on to say that Africa’s lower rate of infection could result in the outbreak going on for longer… a few years longer.

Dr Moeti added that the importance of promoting effective containment measures has never been more crucial, as the sustained and widespread transmission of the virus could severely overwhelm health systems on our continent.

“Curbing a large-scale outbreak is far costlier than the ongoing preventative measures governments are undertaking to contain the spread of the virus.”

What’s happening in SA?

Just recently, SA president Cyril Ramaphosa announced that a large part of the country would be moving to lockdown alert level 3 as of 1 June 2020, and that certain parts of the country would be labelled as ‘hotspots’. He explained a hotspot as being “an area that has more than 5 infected people per every 100 000 or where new infections are increasing at a fast pace”. Here’s the list he gave of the metros and areas that have been designated as hotspots:

  • Tshwane
  • Johannesburg
  • Ekurhuleni
  • eThekwini
  • Nelson Mandela Bay
  • Buffalo City
  • Cape Town
  • West Coast district municipality (Western Cape)
  • Overberg district municipality (Western Cape)
  • Cape Winelands district municipality (Western Cape)

“The list of hotspot areas will be reviewed every two weeks depending on the progression of the virus. Any part of the country could be returned to alert level 4 or 5 if the spread of infections is not contained,” Ramaphosa said.

Ramaphosa also mentioned noted that under alert level 3, certain restrictions will be eased, including:

  • More public servants will be called back to work.
  • People will be able to leave their homes to buy goods or obtain services.
  • People will be able to exercise at any time during the day (no groups).
  • There will no longer be a curfew.
  • Alcohol will be sold for home consumption (under strict conditions; on specified days; for limited hours).
  • The sale of cigarettes will remain prohibited.

Test shortage

While the country has done well over half a million COVID-19 tests (596 777 to be exact), the minister of health Dr Zweli Mkhize indicated that the country is running out of test kits. In a presentation to the National Council of Provinces on 26 May (which was televised on news channels), Dr Mkhize said that only 12 000 tests had been done in the last 24 hours. Just a day before that, over 20 000 tests had been conducted.

“The decline here is occasioned by the world shortage of supply of testing kits,” he said.

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“We are running into difficulties with various suppliers not being able to meet our demands. The whole world is trembling to get lab kits and so we are starting to get squeezed now.”

He went on to say that the government needs society to understand that this has become a significant constraint.

“It’s not so much our capacity but rather whether global suppliers respond to our requests. Everybody in the world is looking for exactly the same thing.”

SAA update

In a statement released on 26 May 2020, South African Airways has come out to say that they plan to restart domestic flights as soon as the government gives them the green light. The carrier plans to open up flights between Johannesburg and Cape Town from mid-June 2020.

“Everyone at SAA is looking forward to welcoming and serving our customers once again,” SAA’s Chief Commercial Officer Philip Saunders said in a statement.

“Our operational preparedness is underlined by the significant role the airline has played in global repatriations to and from South Africa and by our desire to serve the domestic market.”

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