Coronavirus and more....

Weekly updates and information

Coronavirus pandemic

Movers & Shakers

Mauritius declared wary victory over Covid-19, saying on May 12 it had “zero” active patients and had not documented a single new case in 17 days. The Indian Ocean island nation is the first African country to announce such a feat, though the island remains wary of new infections.

Kenya’s biggest bank by assets, KCB Group, posted 8% profit after tax in the first quarter to March at $59m. However, the lender has had to restructure more than $1bn in loans and the CEO is hesitant to predict how earnings will be impacted this year. 

Jumia, a major e-commerce platform in Africa, has reported an almost 7% fall in first quarter revenue due to supply chain disruptions, particularly in China. It also reported signs that lockdowns were hastening a shift towards online shopping in Africa.  

Kenya and Zambia have closed their borders with Tanzania, following growing fears that the government has failed to get a handle on Covid-19. The government has not announced any updates since April 29, leading to a warning from the US Embassy that the pandemic has grown exponentially in Dar es Salaam. 

The eastern-based Libya National Army (LNA) has suffered a series of military setbacks since Turkey sided with the Triopli-based UN-backed government in January. The Government of National Accord (GNA) captured the LNA’s only airbase near Tripoli, as Libya’s ongoing civil war draws in more foreign powers. 

 
 

Liveblog suspended

Dear Readers,

After careful consideration, African Business has taken the decision to suspend the Covid-19 liveblog. Although the pandemic will continue to affect our lives and economies for the foreseeable future, we have decided to focus on in-depth analysis, which is best represented on our website. Please continue to visit our homepage for updates and economic analysis from our dedicated team of business journalists.

Yours sincerely,

African Business

South Africa’s modelling, Ethiopia’s telecoms, Burundi’s election and Sudan’s US battle : Weekly Update

Covid-19 cases have risen to over 100,000 this week, as policymakers take differing approaches to deal with the pandemic. Ghana and South Africa were some of the first countries to begin easing restrictions while Kenya and Sudan have decided to extend lockdowns. Concerns are mounting over Tanzania and Burundi which have failed to take the virus seriously. Insurgencies in countries like Somalia and Mali have also stoked fears that governments dealing with conflict will be unable to get a handle on the virus.

African leaders have voiced their concerns over the lack of fiscal space to provide comprehensive support packages for the most vulnerable in society. Kenya recently secured $1bn from the World Bank and the IMF approved Egypt’s request for $2.772bn, among many others, but more must be done to support low-income countries, African leaders say. Along with freezing interest rates on African debt, policymakers have called for an initial support package of $100bn to fight Covid-19.

Meanwhile, experts are divided over whether or not Africa will experience a health crisis similar to Europe and North America. The slow spread of Covid-19 in Africa is the subject of great debate with theories including the poor interconnectivity of African cities, the lack of testing kits, the strength of Africa’s health institutions following the Ebola outbreak, and the tough measures put in place by African governments at the onset of the virus.

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Ethiopia is forging ahead with plans to sell two new telecommunications licenses as the government continues on its path to economic liberalisation despite delays due to Covid-19 and postponed elections. The government on Thursday opened up a month-long window for companies to submit expressions of interest, which have included Orange, MTN and Vodacom.

South Africa could see up to 50,000 Covid-19 deaths and up to three million infections by the end of the year as the southern hemisphere winter leads to a higher rate of infection, scientific models showed on Thursday. South Africa has had the most cases in Africa throughout the majority of the pandemic, though it has also conducted the most tests.

Burundi‘s elections on Wednesday passed calmly despite political tension and the opposition accusing the authorities of fraud. Though President Pierre Nkurunziza will step down after 15-years, his successor from the CNDD-FDD party Evariste Ndayishimiye is widely expected to win. Last week, Burundi expelled the head of the local World Health Organization mission, who had criticised all parties for holding rallies despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sudan must compensate the victims of the 1998 al-Qaeda bombings of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya that killed more than 200 people and injured thousands more, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday.  The ruling leaves Sudan exposed to a $10.2bn judgment delivered by a federal court in 2012, which was partially overturned on appeal. It will further dent Sudan’s hopes of being removed from Washington’s state sponsors of terrorism list, which blocks it from receiving financial assistance from global lenders.

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WHO estimates Up to 190 000 people could die of COVID-19 in Africa if not controlled

Eighty-three thousand to 190 000 people in Africa could die of COVID-19 and 29m to 44m could get infected in the first year of the pandemic if containment measures fail, a new study by the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Africa finds. The research, which is based on prediction modelling, looks at 47 countries in the WHO African Region with a total population of one billion.

 The new estimates are based on modifying the risk of transmission and disease severity by variables specific to each country in order to adjust for the unique nature of the region. The model predicts the observed slower rate of transmission, lower age of people with severe disease and lower mortality rates compared to what is seen in the most affected countries in the rest of the world. This is largely driven by social and environmental factors slowing the transmission, and a younger population that has benefitted from the control of communicable diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis to reduce possible vulnerabilities.

The lower rate of transmission, however, suggests a more prolonged outbreak over a few years, according to the study which also revealed that smaller African countries alongside Algeria, South Africa and Cameroon were at a high risk if containment measures are not prioritized.

“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,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa. “COVID-19 could become a fixture in our lives for the next several years unless a proactive approach is taken by many governments in the region. We need to test, trace, isolate and treat.”

The predicted number of cases that would require hospitalization would overwhelm the available medical capacity in much of Africa. There would be an estimated 3.6m –5.5m COVID-19 hospitalizations, of which 82 000–167 000 would be severe cases requiring oxygen, and 52,000–107,000 would be critical cases requiring breathing support. Such a huge number of patients in hospitals would severely strain the health capacities of countries.

A survey of health services in the African region undertaken in March 2020 based on self-reports by 47 countries to WHO revealed that there were on average nine intensive care unit beds. These would be woefully inadequate. Additionally, the physical access to these services to the general population is very low, suggesting many people would not even have the chance to get to the needed care. Diseases that could be managed could easily become more complicated as a result.

The study recommends that countries across Africa need to expand the capacity particularly of primary hospitals and ensure that basic emergency care is included in primary health systems.

“The importance of promoting effective containment measures is ever more crucial, as sustained and widespread transmission of the virus could severely overwhelm our health systems,” said Dr Moeti. “Curbing a largescale outbreak is far costlier than the ongoing preventive measures governments are undertaking to contain the spread of the virus.”

Containment measures, specifically physical distancing and hygiene improvement, aim to slow down the transmission of the virus so its effects happen at a rate manageable by the health system.

All countries in the WHO African Region are using these results through the WHO country offices to inform their containment actions. The detailed methods and results are currently in press at the British Medical Journal-Global Health after extensive peer review and validation.

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IMF approves a $739m disbursement to Kenya to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

The IMF approved the disbursement of $739m to be drawn under the Rapid Credit Facility to support Kenya’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a serious toll on the Kenyan economy, significantly reducing growth, creating fiscal and external financing needs.

It is important that the authorities resume their fiscal consolidation plans to reduce macroeconomic vulnerabilities once the crisis abates.

The Executive Board approved the disbursement of SDR542.8 million (100 percent of quota, about $739 million) to be drawn under the Rapid Credit Facility (RCF). This will help to meet Kenya’s urgent balance of payments need stemming from the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The impact of COVID-19 on the Kenyan economy will be severe. It will act through both global and domestic channels, and downside risks remain large. While the authorities have taken decisive action to respond to the pandemic’s health and economic impacts, the sudden shock has left Kenya with significant fiscal and external financing needs. Authorities have committed to resume their fiscal consolidation plans once the crisis abates to reduce debt vulnerabilities.

The RCF will help the authorities to address those needs. It will allow them to maintain an adequate level of international reserves and help provide the budget financing needed to respond to the pandemic.

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Urgent appeal to international community to support African travel and tourism sector

Five international air transport and tourism bodies have launched an appeal to international financial institutions, country development partners and international donors to support Africa’s travel and tourism sector which employs some 24.6m people on the African continent.

Without urgent funding, the COVID-19 crisis could see a collapse of the sector in Africa, taking with it millions of jobs. The sector contributes $169bn to Africa’s economy combined, representing 7.1% of the continent’s GDP.

The request is being made by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) and the Airlines Association of Southern Africa (AASA).

These organizations are jointly calling on international financial institutions, country development partners and international donors to support the African travel and tourism sector through these tough times by providing:

  • $10 billion in relief to support the industry to help protect the livelihoods of those it supports directly and indirectly;
  • Access to as much grant-type financing and cash flow assistance as possible to inject liquidity and provide targeted support to severely impacted countries;
  • Financial measures that can help minimize disruptions to much-needed credit and liquidity for businesses. This includes the deferral of existing financial obligations or loan repayments;
  • Ensuring that all funds flow down immediately to save the businesses that need them urgently, with minimal application processes and without impediment from normal lending considerations such as creditworthiness.

Some African governments are trying to provide targeted and temporary support for hard-hit sectors. However, many countries lack the necessary resources to help the industry and these livelihoods through this crisis.

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Fears of undetected cases as COVID-19 soars in Somalia

With more than 800 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Somalia, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) warns that many cases are going untested and undetected.

Somalia has faced decades of violence and cycles of drought and floods, leaving its health care system ill-equipped to respond to this outbreak.

Richard Crothers, Somalia Country Director at the IRC, said: “The IRC is extremely concerned that Somalia is becoming quickly overwhelmed by a major uptick in COVID-19 cases. The situation is on the verge of spiraling out of control.

“We are seeing widespread community transmission in a country that will not be able to handle a multitude of severely ill patients at once. IRC staff are reporting that people with symptoms are being told to stay home to save the limited health resources for those who become severely ill, showing that the official count is far off from reality.”

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Nigerian health minister urges extra vigilance with easing of COVID-19 lockdown

As Nigeria eases its lockdown health minister Osagie Ehanire has urged ministers to “be extra vigilant and be compliant with accompanying measures and guidelines that are meant to assure that we do not lose the health gains we have made so far, since our COVID-19 statistics are of considerable concern.”

He continued: “We can say we are fully in community transmission mode and our strategy is to take all persons who test positive to isolation, even if they have no symptoms, so that they do not risk infecting others, who may be more vulnerable due to other diseases.

“We need to protect, not only ourselves, but each other and our loved ones. We need to make sacrifices today for a better tomorrow.”

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World Health Organization supports scientifically-proven traditional medicine

The World Health Organization (WHO) welcomes innovations around the world including repurposing drugs, traditional medicines and developing new therapies in the search for potential treatments for COVID-19, it said in a press release yesterday.

It added: “WHO recognizes that traditional, complementary and alternative medicine has many benefits and Africa has a long history of traditional medicine and practitioners that play an important role in providing care to populations.

“Medicinal plants such as Artemisia annua are being considered as possible treatments for COVID-19 and should be tested for efficacy and adverse side effects. Africans deserve to use medicines tested to the same standards as people in the rest of the world. Even if therapies are derived from traditional practice and natural, establishing their efficacy and safety through rigorous clinical trials is critical.”

African governments through their ministers of health adopted a resolution urging member states to produce evidence on the safety, efficacy and quality of traditional medicine at the 50th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa in 2000.

Countries also agreed to undertake relevant research and require national medicines regulatory agencies to approve medicines in line with international standards, which include the product following a strict research protocol and undergoing tests and clinical trials. These studies normally involve hundreds of people under the monitoring of the national regulatory authorities and may take quite a few months in an expedited process.

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Aliko Dangote Foundation engages 54gene Laboratory to conduct 1,000 COVID-19 test per day in Kano

The Aliko Dangote Foundation (ADF) a philanthropic endeavor of Aliko Dangote, has contracted 54Gene, a molecular diagnostics company specialized in research, and diagnostics, to immediately set up a 400 test per day capacity laboratory in Kano State.

The lab, which was inaugurated yesterday, will start with a testing capacity of 400 tests a day, increasing to 1,000 tests a day by May 10th.

Aliko Dangote said the foundation is directly supporting the Nigerian government’s COVID-19 containment efforts in Kano State.

According to Africa’s richest man, this new investment in support of increasing nation-wide testing, comes in addition to ADF’s support through the Private Sector Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID).

He explained: “CACOVID is already setting up a 310 bed isolation center at Sani Abacha stadium in Kano. We are extending that capacity by another 150 beds at the Abubakar Imam Urology Centre in Kano, which is being converted into an isolation center now. These two centers will be operational pending the final validation by the Infection Prevention and Control team, which we expect will be completed in the coming days.”

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Afreximbank announces $3m COVID-19 response grant for African Countries

The African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) has announced a $3m grant to complement continental efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Afreximbank President Prof. Benedict Oramah, who made the announcement in Cairo, said that the grant was in response to a request by African heads of state, through the auspices of the African Union Chair Person, Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa, for the mobilisation of resources to address the pandemic.

He said that a significant proportion of the grant would go to the COVID-19 Special Fund set up by the African Union (AU) as well as to the African Center for Disease Control (Africa CDC).

“We hope that our modest contribution will help to address some of the immediate needs. We encourage other African banks, funds, corporations and charitable organisations to also contribute to the relief effort,” said Prof. Oramah, who noted that Afreximbank was working with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the AU to help mobilise grant funding for the COVID-19 mitigation responses.

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