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. 


AfCFTA must go ahead say African business leaders

The COVID-19 crisis is not a reason to delay the commencement of trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement on 1 July but rather a reason to accelerate it, say a group of leading African business figures.

In an open letter to African Heads of State published by the AfroChampions Initiative they call for a COVID-accelerated phase one in to start in July 2020 and a COVID-delayed phase two to go ahead when the pandemic has eased.

The AfCFTA can help contribute to beat Covid-19 – through the free trade of pharmaceuticals and PPE – and to speed up post-COVID economic recovery, they argue. Full AfCFTA trading should be postponed to early 2021 but negotiations should continue via online platforms, and the AfCFTA Secretariat should be fully operationalised.

COVID-19 has a silver lining for Africa as it opens the door for industrialisation and the AfCFTA is an opportunity to capitalise on it that must not be lost, they argue.

The AfroChampions Initiative has also published its AfCFTA Year Zero Report and Rankings, which provides a baseline of the continent’s readiness for start of trade.  The open letter can be read on the African Business website.


Air deliveries to Africa ramped up with dispatch from UN’s cargo hub in Belgium

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has kick-started a network of global logistics hubs that will support the entire aid community and ensure the delivery of vital medical and humanitarian supplies to developing countries at a time when commercial air transport is at a virtual standstill.

“The window of opportunity to surge medical and humanitarian equipment into Africa to curb the pandemic is closing fast,” said Amer Daoudi, WFP’s COVID-19 Response Director. “Our global logistics support system is up-and-running, and this delivery marks the first of many cargo shipments we will fly to all corners of the globe,” he added.

A WFP-contracted Boeing 757 cargo flight departed the newly-established Global Humanitarian Response Hub in Liège, Belgium, late on Thursday carrying almost 16 metric tons of medical cargo and personal protective equipment like masks and gloves on behalf of UNICEF and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) destined for Burkina Faso and Ghana. Some of this cargo will then be moved to its final destination in the Republic of Congo.

Global Humanitarian Response Hubs located close to where medical supplies are manufactured in Liège, Dubai, and China will link to regional hubs in Ethiopia, Ghana, Malaysia, Panama, Dubai, and South Africa, where a fleet of smaller aircraft will be on standby to move cargo and personnel into priority countries. The network builds on pre-existing UN Humanitarian Response Depots (UNHRD) – including Brindisi in Italy.


Rwanda eases one of Africa’s toughest lockdowns

Rwanda will ease one of Africa’s toughest lockdowns on Monday by moving to restricted movement only from 8pm to 5am.

Many essential workers will be allowed to return to work, while markets, hotels and restaurants will reopen and operate under the restrictions of the curfew.

Places of worship, schools, sporting facilities, bars and public gatherings will remain banned, according to a statement by the prime minister.


IMF approves $411m in emergency assistance to Ethiopia to address COVID-19

The IMF approved today $411m in emergency assistance to help Ethiopia meet the urgent balance of payment needs stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Executive Board also approved a rephasing of disbursements under the Extended Credit Facility (ECF) and Extended Financing Facility (EFF) arrangements that have been supporting Ethiopia’s economic reform program since December 2019, and a reduction in access under the EFF arrangement, to maximize financial support under the RFI.

In addition, Ethiopia will benefit from the IMF’s decision to provide debt service relief to the poorest and most vulnerable countries that are eligible for grant assistance under the Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCRT).

As a result, the board today approved Ethiopia’s request for relief under the CCRT on debt service falling due to the IMF until October 13, 2020 of about $12m. This relief could be extended up to 2022 subject to the availability of resources under the CCRT.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created severe health risks and weighed heavily on the Ethiopian economy. If the pandemic is not contained, it will put severe pressure on the health system with devasting social consequences. On the economic front, a fall in demand for exports, combined with domestic containment measures will slow growth and weaken external and fiscal accounts.


UN chief laments a divided international community in the face of COVID-19

The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres yesterday lamented a lack of leadership by world powers and a divided international community in the fight against the coronavirus as he raised concern about inadequate support for poor countries.

Guterres’ remarks come after US President Donald Trump reignited his war of words with China during an interview with Reuters on Wednesday. Trump said he believes China’s handling of the pandemic is proof that Beijing “will do anything they can” to make him lose his re-election bid in November.

In response to questions about global leadership, Guterres told a news conference that the international community was divided when it was “more important than ever” to be united.

“There is … a disconnect between leadership and power. We see remarkable examples of leadership but they are usually not associated with power. And where we see power we sometimes do not see the necessary leadership,” Guterres said.

“I hope this will be overcome sooner rather than later,” he added.


African countries start easing COVID-19 confinement measures

When COVID-19 emerged as a global health threat, African countries were quick to enact public health measures to slow the spread of the virus. Now as some countries begin to ease lockdowns, it is important to maintain strong surveillance, case finding and testing among other control measures to halt the pandemic.

“National and regional lockdowns have helped to slow down the spread of COVID, but it remains a considerable public health threat,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa. “Lockdowns are being eased in some parts of Africa, but we cannot just revert back to how things were before the outbreak. If governments abruptly end these measures, we risk losing the gains countries have made so far against COVID-19.”

Africa has to date recorded more than 34 000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 1500 deaths. West and Central Africa are regions of concern. So far there are 11 000 cases in West and Central Africa, and 300 people have died. In the week of 13 April, cases increased by 113% in Central Africa and 42% in West Africa.

However, the worst fears of public health officials and governments have not yet come to pass. Africa has so far been spared an explosion in COVID-19 case numbers.  Prompt action by governments to implement lockdowns and physical distancing, alongside effective public health measures to test, trace and treat have slowed down the spread of the virus.

The first country to implement a lockdown in the WHO African Region was Rwanda on 21 March, since then 11 countries have followed. A further 10 have instituted partial lockdowns of cities or high risk communities.

Preliminary data indicate that countries that implemented nationwide lockdowns found that the weekly increase in the number of new cases fell significantly from a 67% rise in the first week after the lockdown to a 27% rise in the second week. Furthermore, the initial analysis indicates that countries which implemented partial and targeted lockdowns along with effective public health measures may have been even more effective at slowing down the virus.

“We are still analysing the data. If further research corroborates our initial findings that targeted lockdowns, based on data and accompanied by public health measures contribute to flattening the COVID-19 curve, this could help balance the huge social costs of these measures for countries,” said Dr Moeti.

Countries are now starting to relax their confinement measures. Ghana was the first to lift its partial lockdown in Accra and Kumasi. However, other restrictions are in place, and the government has stressed that the end of the lockdown does not mean the end of the pandemic. While some essential businesses are being opened, mass gatherings are still not permitted and restrictions on the number of passengers on public transport services remain in place.

The government is continuing to monitor events in COVID-19 hotspots and has stated it will re-establish localized lockdowns if needed. Ghana is also averaging around 30 COVID-19 tests per 10,000 people per day – the highest in West Africa. South Africa is also considering easing its confinement measures and has scaled up its testing efforts. Despite progress on testing for COVID-19, countries in the WHO African region are averaging nine tests per 10 000 people.

WHO is working to improve testing capacity by shipping a further round of test kits to countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The Organization is working to replenish supplies and in the past two weeks has brought personal protective equipment and other crucial equipment to countries across Africa in partnership with the World Food Programme, the African Union, the Africa Centres for Disease Control, the Government of Ethiopia and the Jack Ma Foundation.


Tunisia to ease restrictions while Algeria and Morocco extend lockdowns

Tunisian polling and data experts Sigma Conseil posted their latest update from the three Maghreb countries of North Africa. These are the latest figures:

Tunisia: 980 cases (+5), 40 deaths (+1), which equates to 3.4 deaths/1m people. Progressive easing of the lockdown from the 4th May

Algeria: 3,848 cases (+199), 444 deaths (+7), which equates to 10.5 deaths/1m people. Lockdown has been extended to the 14th May

Morocco: 4,321 cases (+69), 168 deaths (+3), which equates to 4.7 deaths/1m people. Lockdown was extended last week to the 20th May

In his post on social media, Hassen Zargouni, Founder of Sigma Conseil, states that epidemiologists, as well as behavioural scientists, will have years of work ahead of them as they try and work out all the unknowns and to test the different theories that have been circulating on social media.

Theories and suppositions on why the numbers vary country by country and are still lower in Africa than other continents: is it the BCG vaccine; blood types; age; nicotine; comorbidities; exposure to malarial treatments. All unexplained and that will provide scientists with years of research material.


African Development Bank approves $40m package for Angola’s Banco Millennium Atlântico

The Board of Directors of the African Development Bank (AfDB) approved a $40m financial package to support Angola’s Banco Millennium Atlântico (BMA) to bolster local production and job creation through its portfolio of small and medium-sized enterprises.

The package consists of a $32m line of credit from the AfDB and an additional $8m in parallel financing from the Africa Growing Together Fund (AGTF), a co-financing fund sponsored by the People’s Bank of China and administered by the AfDB.

The facility will provide the long-term financing required by BMA to support the expansion needs of growth-oriented small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) operating mostly in agriculture, agro-industry and domestic manufacturing.

Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and the collapse of oil prices, the package will also help to create direct and indirect jobs, contribute critically needed foreign exchange savings through import substitution, and lay a foundation to boost exports to neighbouring countries.

BMA, one of the largest commercial banks in Angola and a leading financier of domestic firms, especially SMEs, is headquartered in the capital city, Luanda, with a country-wide network of branches. It offers products spanning commercial, investment and private banking solutions. BMA has been a partner of choice for Angolan SMEs in agriculture and manufacturing value chains.


Tourism downturn and increased poaching threatens African wildlife conservation

Rangers in South Africa, DRC and Kenya are reporting increased incidences of poaching and killing of African wildlife as tourism falters amidst the pandemic. Many conservation initiatives are funded by tourism. But now, with many countries in lockdown with travel bans, the tourism sector is in a serious downturn. Wider economic malaise has also seen animals killed for food by the hungry and desperate.

Aside from keeping themselves safe from infection at several nature conservation sites, rangers are now also becoming increasingly worried about the safety of animals at parks such as Virunga in DRC and Loisaba in Kenya. With tourism at a standstill and most people under orders to stay at home, poachers have become emboldened and more daring in their attacks. Thirteen rangers were killed this week at Virunga as they tried to assist civilians who were being attacked by militia.

In normal times travel and tourism provide millions of jobs across Africa, and with the end of lockdowns only a distant prospect, the livelihoods of both animals and people are under threat for at least another 12 months, which will include the peak tourist season from June to October this year.

Some nature reserves, such as Enduiment in Tanzania, have already made the difficult decision to lay off staff. Making a bad situation even worse: when the tourism sector does begin to recover, the animals which people travel thousands is miles to see may be severely depleted in number.

The protection of African wildlife is not just a concern about the natural capital and economic imperatives. The protection of the natural environment and wildlife is also an important plank of Africa’s sustainable future.

Highlighting the importance of biodiversity is also particularly poignant given scientists’ warnings that the coronavirus itself, as well as diseases such as Ebola and HIV, emerged from humanity’s increased infringement into previously untouched natural habitats.


AfCFTA implementation delayed by COVID-19

The implementation of the African Continent Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the world’s largest free-trade bloc, has hit another snag due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Legally, the agreement is already in force but a July 1 deadline had been set aside to iron out several details before the start of trade in goods and services under new tariff rules.

“The COVID-19 situation has caused a major disruption,” Wamkele Mene, secretary-general of the African Continental Free Trade Area, told Bloomberg by text message. “Governments are now engaged in a fight against the pandemic,” he said, without elaborating further.

The African Union was scheduled to have an extraordinary summit in Johannesburg next month to finalise the agreement, but with South Africa still under restrictions that’s closed conference facilities and prohibit public gatherings, it’s unclear whether the meeting will go ahead.

“We are waiting for the assembly to pronounce a new date” for the implementation, Mene said.

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