Emerging data about COVID-19 already provides a clear indication that the social and economic consequences of this pandemic will vary greatly across countries and regions. Estimations of R0, the infection rate, suggest that the virus may be spreading more slowly in Africa than it is in many other parts of the world. This may reflect the swift introduction of containment measures in many African countries, including the closure of international borders, and the ready application of experience in dealing with pandemics in the recent past. Nonetheless, the eventual death toll across Africa could still approach 200,000 according to the WHO2. And while a lower rate of transmission may reduce the number of deaths in total, health officials warn of the risk that COVID-19 remains active for a prolonged period in Africa, compared to other parts of the world.
The recurrence of isolated outbreaks, possibly for years, presents specific challenges with regard to economic growth and social welfare. Economic output in Africa is currently projected to decline by between 1.7% and 5.0% in 20203, representing the first material recession on the continent for more than 25 years. Projections are based on scenarios that reflect the exceptionally high level of uncertainty in outcomes over the short and medium term, with significant variations in growth expectations of different countries (Figure 1). What is already clear however, is that Africa will endure a severe and unprecedented economic shock. The policy responses that will be pursued by member states in the coming months will be profoundly important for mitigating the negative long-term consequences of this shock, and in restoring national economies to trajectories of growth. When it comes to policy responses, one size will obviously not fit all: regional and local context must inform the choices that leaders across the continent make in terms of the instruments used, and their sequencing.