As the 2019 Novel Coronavirus Disease, also known as COVID-19, continues to spread beyond the lands of China, there is fear that the African continent may be among the hardest hit outside of Asia. The upsurge has had an adverse effect on the Chinese economy, which has potential to adversely impact the global economy. The Chinese demand for oil and metals-an elixir for many countries of Africa, has spiraled downwards. In addition, owing to the growing concerns about the spread of this virus from Asia to Africa, it is important to note how is the African continent equipped to safeguard its inhabitants. Today, the Chinese are fighting the Coronavirus epidemic which has already killed around 3,213 people and till date more than 80,860 cases have been reported in mainland China (National Health Commission of People’s Republic of China, 2020). The African Union along with other international organisations has extended their solidarity in support of China.
How the Africans are surviving the situation is a big question?
In the last few decades, the flow of people between China and Africa has risen exponentially (Youyou 2019). It is noted that by 2017, more than 200,000 Chinese labourers were deployed in several projects in Africa which has led to a jump of over 600% in the direct airline flights between African nations and China in the last decade (Helena and Rugayyah, 2020). Most of the Chinese workers are in five countries of Africa – Angola, Algeria, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Zambia and they account for almost sixty percent of Chinese workers in the continent (Helena and Rugayyah, 2020). There are around 61,000 African students presently studying in China, out of which close to 46,000 are based in Wuhan –the epicenter of the epidemic (VOA 2020). As the number of deaths is increasing every day, the Africans in China want their respective governments to help them exit the country. Requests are also being made to the Chinese administration to take care of them since they are facing difficulties in getting medical assistance and food because of being advised not to go out of their residential compounds.
Consequently, the African nations are directly challenged and vulnerable to the spread of Coronavirus because of the high volume of air traffic between the continent and China. There are many countries in Africa which are at high risk of importing this virus. There is evidence which proves that weather also acts as an important determinant in the spread of the virus. The Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom, in a conference mentioned that most of the African nations have weak health systems, so if Coronavirus arrived in the continent- already drained by several other diseases and viruses viz., Ebola, Zika, malaria, respiratory tract infections, then it will be even harder to control than in other regions of the world (Tedros Adhanom, 2020).
As on 13th March 2020, the World Health Organisation has confirmed 132,000 cases of COVID-19 and 5000 related deaths worldwide (WHO 2020). In Africa the virus has hit a number of northern, southern and western countries and as of today more than hundred cases with one death has been confirmed in the continent (Africa CDC 2020). Egypt was the first nation on the African continent to confirm COVID-19 followed by Algeria. According to the Ministry of Health, Populations and Hospital Reform of Algeria, on 17thFebruary 2020, an Italian arrived in the country who tested positive for Coronavirus disease. This is the first case in the WHO African Regions as Algeria is one of the 47 countries under the organisation. Prior to this, WHO has recognised and placed Algeria along with Ethiopia, South Africa, and Nigeria as hotspots for preparedness action due to the direct contact and travel of people from these countries to China (Africa Eye Report, 2020). The organisation is also planning to get experts to help the officials in the health sector of the continent. Initially, Senegal and South Africa were the only countries with laboratory capabilities to test Coronavirus. Lately, according to the African CDC head Dr. John Nkengasong - ‘now there are forty-three counties in Africa which has the capacity to test and have supplies of test kits’ (African Union 2020). On 28 February 2020, Nigeria reported the first confirmed case of Coronavirus in the sub-Saharan African region (Aljazeera 2020). The other affected countries are Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Morocco, Senegal, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Togo, Tunisia, South Africa and Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia, Mauritania, Eswatini, Equatorial Guinea, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Gabon, Rwanda, Uganda, Ghana, Seychelles, Guinea, Sudan, Central African Republic and Congo. Over half of Africa is infected as on 15th March 2020 (africanews 2020).
Today, there are many developing nations including in Africa that are dependent on China for trade which includes both imports and exports. As the trade is hit by Coronavirus fears - the experts believe that the epidemic is no longer a Chinese issue but a global challenge that has an adverse effect on the world economy. Even the International Monetary Fund has cut its economic growth calculations for the Africa’s top oil exporter Nigeria from 2.5 percent to two percent because of decline in oil prices. This has further led to pressure on the naira (currency) ‘given crude accounts for ninety percent of the West African nation’s exports’ (Alonso, 2020). Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and Republic of Congo are at great risk of financial stress as there is less demand from China. Crude oil, copper and iron prices have also declined this year (Alonso, 2020).
In a nutshell, the human cost of the Coronavirus outbreak along with economic cost is mounting and spreading across China and beyond. Several measures are being undertaken by the African countries to fight this virus. As mentioned above, until mid-February, there were just two laboratories to conduct the test in Africa (Senegal and South Africa). Recently, countries like Ghana, Madagascar, Sierra Leone and Nigeria have set up laboratories to conduct tests for COVID-19.
The need of the hour for international organisations like World Health Organization (WHO) and the African Union (AU) along with the other regional organistaions of Africa is to prepare on a war footing in order to respond to the ‘global pandemic’ in a much more efficient manner. Sending medical assistance in the form of personnel and supplies to several African nations is crucial and this will play a vital role in the continent to prevent the spread of the disease. Moreover, enhanced preventive steps like establishment of isolation center with trained health workers, screening passengers arriving at the airports of Africa are some of the other measure that the Africans can take to deal with the situation effectively at this critical time.