COVID-19: Africa’s Death Toll Surpasses 100,000

Africa is battling a second wave of the pandemic but experts believe the continent’s death might be higher than reported.  Michele Spatari / AFP

 

Africa on Thursday recorded more than 100,000 deaths from Covid-19, a grim milestone likely to understate the real toll, as the continent of 1.2 billion people battles a second wave of infections.

The 54 countries in the region have a death toll of 100,000 from 3,793,660 reported cases, according to an AFP tally.

The continent, relatively spared by the pandemic, is the last except Oceania to reach the threshold of 100,000 deaths, which Europe crossed in April 2020.

South Africa — the worst hit African country — rolled out a mass testing campaign at the start of the pandemic.

To date, the country has recorded nearly 1.5 million cases and more than 48,000 deaths.

READ ALSO: EU Tells Five Countries To Codify Anti-Racism Law

But those figures, based on daily reports communicated by health authorities, only reflect a fraction of the actual case load, health specialists say.

“The cases are clearly under-reported because of poor access to healthcare facilities and under-reporting of milder cases,” South African virologist Barry Schoub, also a member of the Scientific Council at the South African Ministry of Health told AFP.

Understaffed health facilities and lack of means have meant many African countries have been unable to do mass testing.

“Many countries have mainly PCR tests in the capitals. And the further one moves away from the urban centres, the less there are tests,” explained French epidemiologist Emmanuel Baron from Doctors Without Borders.

“It is a disease that can go unnoticed with asymptomatic patients, or with symptoms that can be confused with others,” he added.

– Covid found in pawpaw –
In Zimbabwe, a country with a devastated economy and mismanaged health system, hospitals are filled with Covid patients, exhausted doctors and overwhelmed nurses. But the official number of cases remains low.

Tanzania stopped testing in May 2020 after claiming it had found a positive Covid case in a pawpaw, a quail and even a goat. The Tanzanian government last released official figures in April.

“If someone had told me a year ago that we, as a continent, would see 100,000 deaths from this infection, I probably would not have believed it,” John Nkengasong, the Africa Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC), told reporters on Thursday.

The toll in Africa is, however, significantly lower than in Europe, the world’s most affected region, with 818,912 deaths recorded so far. The other regions that are badly hit are Latin America with 649,006 deaths and the United States and Canada 512,295 deaths.

After a sharp increase in January, Africa’s figures have fallen sharply in the past few weeks. Over the last seven days, the continent recorded 3,054 deaths, a drop of 18 percent from the previous week.

At the height of the pandemic in January, the continent had 906 deaths per day.

– No disaster –
While coronavirus figures are clearly underestimated, “we have not seen a health disaster in Africa to date”, said Baron.

Several studies on antibodies, which make it possible to detect whether a person who is recovered has previously been exposed to the virus, are underway in many African countries and should provide a better idea of the impact of the pandemic in the region.

South Africa, where almost all of the latest cases are attributed to a variant of the virus known to be more contagious and which has spread widely, represents nearly half of the deaths and reported cases on the continent.

The other African countries that are most affected are Egypt (10,150 deaths from 175,677 cases) and Morocco (8,524 deaths from 480,056 cases).

South Africa is also the country with most Covid-19 fatalities on the continent, counting 82 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, ahead of Tunisia (65 deaths) and Eswatini (55).

Lagging behind in the vaccination race, the continent’s leading industrial powerhouse administered its first vaccines on Wednesday.

Globally, Covid-19 has caused more than 109 million infections and over 2.4 million deaths since the start of the epidemic in Wuhan in China in December 2019.

AFP

Ebola: Profile Of A Prolific Killer

 

A fact file on the Ebola virus that has plunged Guinea into an “epidemic situation” according to a senior health official, and which has killed more than 15,000 people since 1976.

Origins

Ebola was first identified in central Africa in 1976. The tropical virus was named after a river in the Democratic Republic of Congo — then known as Zaire.

Five of the virus species are known to cause disease in humans — Zaire, Sudan, Bundibugyo, Reston and Tai Forest.

The first three species have resulted in serious African outbreaks.

Transmission

The virus’ natural reservoir animal is probably the bat, which does not itself fall ill, but can pass the germ on to humans who hunt it for “bushmeat”.

Other dinnertime favourites in parts of Africa — chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines — are also suspected of transmitting Ebola.

Among humans, the virus is passed on by contact with the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of an infected or recently deceased person. This can include touching a sick or dead person, and likely also sexual intercourse.

Those infected do not become contagious until symptoms appear. They become more and more contagious until just after their death, which poses great risks during funerals.

Death rates are high, at around 50 per cent on average of those infected, and up to 90 per cent for some epidemics, the World Health Organization (WHO) data shows.

Read Also: Guinea Records Seven Ebola Cases As Health Chief Calls Outbreak An ‘Epidemic’

Symptoms

Following an incubation period of between two and 21 days, Ebola develops into a high fever, weakness, intense muscle and joint pain, headaches and a sore throat.

The initial symptoms are often followed by vomiting and diarrhoea, skin eruptions, kidney and liver failure, and internal and external bleeding.

After-effects have often been observed in survivors, including arthritis, problems with vision, eye inflammation and hearing difficulties.

Treatment

A vaccine developed by the US group Merck Shape and Dohme was found to be very effective in a major study carried out in Guinea in 2015.

It was pre-qualified by the WHO and more than 300,000 doses have been used during a vaccination programme in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo).

A second experimental vaccine developed by the US group Johnson & Johnson was introduced preventively in October 2019 in areas that had not been affected by the virus and more than 20,000 people were inoculated.

Worst epidemic (2013-2016)

The worst-ever Ebola outbreak began in December 2013 in southern Guinea before spreading to two neighbouring West African countries, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

That outbreak killed more than 11,300 people out of nearly 29,000 registered cases, according to WHO estimates.

10th and 11th DR Congo epidemics

The 10th epidemic began on August 1, 2018 in the North Kivu province of DR Congo, and was declared a global health threat in July 2019 by the WHO.

It was declared over in June 2020 by DR Congo authorities after around 2,280 people had died, making it Africa’s second-worst Ebola outbreak ever.

An 11th Ebola epidemic began that month in the Equator province and was declared over on November 18, with 55 deaths.

“Resurgence” in DR Congo and “epidemic situation in Guinea 

On February 7, the DR Congo said a resurgence of the virus had been identified in an eastern part of the country.

A week later, a senior health official in Guinea said that country was in an “epidemic situation” after seven cases were confirmed in the southeast, three of which had resulted in deaths.

They were the first Ebola fatalities in Guinea since 2016.

A local WHO official said the organisation would send vaccines quickly to help keep the virus from spreading.

South Africa Goes For Johnson & Johnson Vaccine – Minister

File: CESAR MANSO / AFP

 

South Africa will begin its coronavirus inoculation campaign with Johnson & Johnson vaccines, the health minister said on Wednesday, after withholding the Oxford/AstraZeneca formula over doubts about effectiveness.

The country worst-hit by the pandemic in Africa has suspended its vaccine rollout — meant to begin with Oxford/AstraZeneca this week — after scientists found the shot failed to prevent mild and moderate illness caused by a local virus variant known as 501Y.V2.

“Given the outcomes of the efficacy studies…, (government) will continue with the planned phase one vaccination using the Johnson & Johnson vaccines instead of the AstraZeneca vaccine,” Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told a press briefing.

“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been proven effective against the 501Y.V2 variant.”

He did not say when immunisation would begin.

To date South Africa has ordered nine million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines, of which a small shipment is expected to arrive next week.

READ ALSO: Prince Charles Receives First Dose Of COVID-19 Vaccine

However, the first consignment will probably be used as “research stock,” Mkhize said.

South African pharmaceutical giant Aspen, a contracted Johnson & Johnson vaccine manufacturer, is striving to produce its first doses next month.

“They are very determined to fast-track this production in South Africa,” Mkhize said, adding that the stock would then be available in April.

South Africa’s vaccination delay has set back an ambitious aim to inoculate around 40 million people — 67 percent of the population — by the end of 2021.

The country was slow to catch on to the global vaccine scramble and only received its first jabs on February 1.

The one million AstraZeneca shots were produced by the Serum Institute of India, from which an additional 500,000 doses have been purchased.

South Africa is considering either selling or swapping these doses with countries facing the original strain of coronavirus, said the minister, insisting that nothing would go to waste.

Scientists have suggested administering some of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to several thousand people in South Africa to see if it can still prevent severe infection from the new variant.

Additional vaccines are being secured from US drugmaker Pfizer, and through the World Health Organisation-backed Covax facility and the African Union.

South Africa is emerging from a second wave of coronavirus infections largely fuelled by its virus variant, said to be more transmissible than the original form.

The country has recorded close to 1.5 million cases and over 46,800 deaths.

Biden Promises Partnership With Africa, Hopes To Attend Next AU Summit

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the national economy and the need for his administration's proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief legislation in the State Dining Room at the White House on February 05, 2021 in Washington, DC. Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images/AFP
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the national economy and the need for his administration’s proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief legislation in the State Dining Room at the White House on February 05, 2021 in Washington, DC. Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images/AFP

 

President Joe Biden on Friday promised partnership with Africa and said he hoped to attend the next African Union summit, an about-face in US interest in a continent largely ignored by his predecessor.

In a video message to this weekend’s African Union summit, being held virtually due to Covid, the new US leader promised to work with Africans on his key priorities of fighting the virus and climate change and also to advance diplomacy to end the continent’s conflicts.

“None of this is going to be easy, but the United States stands ready now to be your partner in solidarity, support and mutual respect,” Biden said.

READ ALSO: Africa To Receive Nearly 90m COVID-19 Vaccines In February

“I hope I can be with you next time in person.”

In what have become early themes of his presidency, Biden vowed to promote democracy and the rights of sexual minorities — which are frequently under attack in Africa.

Biden said he wanted to work with Africa on “a future committed to investing in our democratic institutions and promoting the human rights of all people — women and girls, LGBTQ individuals, people with disabilities and people of every ethnic background, religion and heritage.”

Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump was the first president since Ronald Reagan not to visit Africa during his tenure and rose to prominence by promoting the falsehood that his predecessor Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

Trump notoriously was quoted as using an expletive to describe African nations when explaining why he did not want non-white immigrants to the United States.

 

AFP

COVID-19: Africa To Receive Nearly 90m Vaccines In February

A nurse draws Covishield, AstraZeneca's Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine made by India's Serum Institute, at the Baruipur sub-divisional hospital on the outskirts of Kolkata on January 18, 2021. Dibyangshu SARKAR / AFP
Less than 20,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines are in Africa, according to the UN. Dibyangshu SARKAR / AFP

 

Africa will receive nearly 90 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from COVAX in February 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) African region said on Thursday. 

Africa has watched other regions start COVID-19 vaccination campaigns from the side-lines for too long,” WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti said during a briefing on the roll-out of vaccines in the continent. “This planned roll-out is a critical first step to ensuring the continent gets equitable access to vaccines. We know no one will be safe until everyone is safe.”

READ ALSO: COVID-19 And Conflicts Compete For Attention At African Union Summit

In what could the organisation described as the largest ever mass vaccination campaign in Africa, the agency noted that the vaccines would come mainly from the AstraZeneca/Oxford AZD1222 vaccine. However, the rollout is subject to the vaccine being approved for emergency use by the WHO. The review is expected to be received soon, the agency added. 

These doses are targeted at vaccinating 3% of the African population who are most in need of protection, including health workers and other vulnerable groups in the first half of 2021. 

READ ALSO: [COVID-19] Africa Left Behind In Vaccination, Says UN

Equally, about 320 000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have been allocated to four nations – Cape Verde, Rwanda, South Africa and Tunisia. These countries are able to store and distribute the COVID-19 vaccines at minus 70 degrees Celsius, the agency said.

And as COVID-19 vaccine production capacity increases, the WHO said its target is to vaccinate at least 20% of Africans by providing up to 600 million doses by the end of the year.

Full Statement From WHO African Region

COVAX has notified countries in Africa of the estimated dose allocation for the first phase of COVID-19 vaccine delivery. The global initiative led by the World Health Organization (WHO), Gavi the Vaccine Alliance and The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) aims to start shipping nearly 90 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to the continent in February, in what will be Africa’s largest ever mass vaccination campaign.

The roll-out of the AstraZeneca/Oxford AZD1222 vaccine is subject to the vaccine being listed for emergency use by WHO. The organization is currently reviewing the vaccine and the outcome of the review is expected soon.

“Africa has watched other regions start COVID-19 vaccination campaigns from the side-lines for too long. This planned roll-out is a critical first step to ensuring the continent gets equitable access to vaccines,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “We know no one will be safe until everyone is safe.”

COVAX notified countries through letters which were sent on 30 January 2021. Amid surging demand for COVID-19 vaccines, the final shipments will be based on production capacities of vaccine manufacturers and the readiness of countries. Recipient countries are required to submit finalized national deployment and vaccination plans to receive vaccines from the COVAX facility.
In addition, around 320 000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have been allocated to four African countries -Cabo Verde, Rwanda, South Africa and Tunisia.

This vaccine has received WHO Emergency Use Listing but requires countries to be able to store and distribute doses at minus 70 degrees Celsius.  To access an initial limited volume of Pfizer vaccine, countries were invited to submit proposals. Thirteen African countries submitted proposals and were evaluated by a multi-agency committee based on current mortality rates, new cases and trends, and the capacity to handle the ultra-cold chain needs of the vaccine.

“This announcement allows countries to fine-tune their planning for COVID-19 immunization campaigns. We urge African nations to ramp up readiness and finalize their national vaccine deployment plans. Regulatory processes, cold chain systems and distribution plans need to be in place to ensure vaccines are safely expedited from ports of entry to delivery. We can’t afford to waste a single dose,” said Dr Moeti.

The initial phase of 90 million doses will support countries to immunize 3% of the African population most in need of protection, including health workers and other vulnerable groups in the first half of 2021. As production capacity increases and more vaccines become available the aim is to vaccinate at least 20% of Africans by providing up to 600 million doses by the end of 2021.

To complement COVAX efforts, the African Union has secured 670 million vaccine doses for the continent which will be distributed in 2021 and 2022 as countries secure adequate financing. The African Export-Import Bank will facilitate payments by providing advance procurement commitment guarantees of up to US$2 billion to the manufacturers on behalf of countries.

Dr Moeti spoke during a virtual press conference today facilitated by APO Group. She was joined by Hon. Khumbize Kandondo Chiponda, Minister of Health, Malawi and Hon. Dr Daniel Ngamije, Minister of Health, Rwanda. Also on hand to answer questions were Dr Richard Mihigo, Immunization and Vaccine Development Programme Coordinator, WHO Regional Office for Africa, and Dr Nicksy Gumede-Moeletsi, Regional Virologist, WHO Regional Office for Africa. 

Mozambique’s Cyclone Eloise Death Toll Rises To 21 – UN

Cyclone Eloise hit an area already devastated by two successive super-storms in March and April 2019. By – (UNICEF/AFP/File)

 

More than 21 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands affected by a super-storm that made landfall in Mozambique last week, causing heavy flooding across swathes of southern Africa, the United Nations said.

Tropical cyclone Eloise hit central Mozambique on Saturday, packing winds of up to 150 kilometres (93 miles) per hour and torrential rain.

It slammed into the province of Sofala, an area still reeling from two deadly cyclones in 2019, before weakening into an overland depression, moving inland towards Zimbabwe, Botswana and northern South Africa.

At least 21 people are now known to have died, including 11 in Mozambique, four in Eswatini, three in Zimbabwe and two in South Africa, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said Thursday.

 

One person was also killed when the storm passed over the Indian Ocean island nation of Madagascar before making landfall.

More than 270,000 people have been affected by the storm, the vast majority in Mozambique, where over 20,000 people have been displaced and 20,500 houses damaged or destroyed.

“With flood waters present in multiple locations, the risk of water-borne diseases, including cholera, is high,” OCHA warned in a statement.

“Tens of thousands of hectares (acres) of crops” have been flooded, they added, which could affect upcoming harvests and undermine regional food security.

More than 177,000 hectares (437,000 acres) of crops were flooded in Mozambique alone.

 

Moderate-to-heavy rain has continued to fall over the region this week.

Eloise hit a part of Mozambique devastated by two successive super-storms in March and April 2019.

The first, Cyclone Idai, left more than 1,000 dead and caused damage estimated at around $2 billion (1.65 billion euros).

One Third Of Africa Will Be Vaccinated This Year – WHO

This picture taken on April 24, 2020 shows a sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva next to their headquarters, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
This picture taken on April 24, 2020 shows a sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva next to their headquarters, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus.
Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

 

Africa can expect to see at least 30 percent of its population immunised against coronavirus by the end of 2021, the World Health Organization said Thursday, as vaccines begin trickling into the continent.

It is estimated Africa will need 1.5 billion vaccine doses to immunise 60 percent of its 1.3 billion inhabitants, the threshold for herd immunity against Covid-19.

But the continent has fallen behind in the global vaccine scramble, as wealthier nations have been accused of bulk-buying excess doses directly from manufacturers.

Most African countries are relying on the World Health Organization (WHO) and the African Union (AU) to shoulder at least part of their innoculation campaigns — providing vaccines and helping to finance their roll out.

WHO Africa’s immunisation coordinator Richard Mihigo said the WHO-backed Covax vaccine sharing facility and the AU’s African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) would jointly deliver enough doses to vaccinate between 30 to 35 percent of the continent’s population this year.

READ ALSO: Biden Targets Trump’s Middle East Legacy

“Given the latest developments within the Covax facility, there is a very good prospect that the objective to supply 600 million doses by the end of 2021 will definitely be reached,” Mihigo told a virtual press briefing.

The Covax vaccines will cover at least 20 percent of the population, with the rest “complemented” by AVATT, he added.

While the AU has so far secured 270 million doses through AVATT, Mihigo warned “some of those may not become available soon” and that the initiative could “realistically” only expect to reach between 10 and 15 percent of the continent in 2021.

The bulk of Covax and AVATT provisions will be shots of Oxford/AstraZeneca’s vaccine, followed by a few million Pfizer-BioNTech jabs.

Mihigo said the WHO was exploring “additional candidates”, with particularly high hopes for Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine.

So far only a small handful of African countries have started vaccinating their populations, including Guinea, Mauritius and the Seychelles.

Morocco is expected to begin administering the shots this week, while South Africa announced on Wednesday that a first batch of 1.5 million AstraZeneca vaccines would arrive on February 1.

Mihigo said the first Covax doses were likely to reach the continent by mid-February, and that “by March we will definitely see most of the countries start vaccinating”.

“It is a slow start but we are expecting that in the coming months things are going to ramp up.”

To date Africa has recorded close to 3.5 million coronavirus cases and 88,000 deaths, according to a tally compiled by AFP.

A new virus variant first detected in South Africa that is thought to be more contagious has cropped up in at least six African countries and 24 worldwide, according to the WHO.

UK Bans Travels From 11 African Countries Over South Africa COVID-19 Strain

(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 31, 2020, a UK border sign welcomes passengers on arrival at Heathrow airport in west London. Ben FATHERS / AFP

 

The United Kingdom is imposing a ban on travellers entering England from 11 African countries for an initial period of two weeks, the government has said.

In a statement on its website, the government explained that the decision was taken in a bid to prevent the spread of a new coronavirus (COVID-19) variant identified in South Africa.

While Nigeria is excluded from the list, all the affected countries are in the southern region of the continent.

They include Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Eswatini, Zambia, Malawi, Lesotho, Mozambique and Angola, as well as Seychelles and Mauritius.

The UK stated that new evidence has shown that there was an urgent need to halt travel from the countries, adding that entry into England would be banned to those who have travelled from or through the countries in the last 10 days (as of Thursday).

“The move, in addition to the travel ban imposed on South Africa on 23 December 2020, follows new data on the steep rise in incidence of the new variant, that has vastly increased the risk of community transmission between nine other southern African countries, as well as the Seychelles and Mauritius, which both have strong travel links with South Africa.

“Urgent restrictions are, therefore, now needed to prevent the spread of this strain in the UK. The measures will be in place for an initial period of two weeks while the scientific data and alternative ways to protect the UK and our partners in Africa are reviewed,” the statement read.

The government, however, stressed that the ban does not affect British and Irish nationals, as well as longer-term visa holders and permanent residents in the UK.

It said such persons would be able to enter but would be required to self-isolate for 10 days on arrival along with their household.

Following the ban on the countries, the UK said it has removed Botswana, Seychelles and Mauritius from its travel corridor list, with the changes taking effect from 4am on Saturday.

The statement added,

Any exemptions usually in place – including for those related to employment – will not apply and those British nationals arriving into England from the other southern African countries, Seychelles and Mauritius after 4am on Saturday 9 January cannot be released from self-isolation through Test to Release.

People sharing a household with anyone self-isolating from these countries will also have to self-isolate for 10 days.

Ministers have also removed Israel (and Jerusalem) from the government’s travel corridor list, as data from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and Public Health England has indicated a significant change in both the level and pace of confirmed cases of coronavirus.

The decision to remove Israel (and Jerusalem) has been made following a sustained and accelerating increase in COVID-19 cases per 100,000 of the population, similar in trajectory to the UK.

National restrictions for England introduced on 6 January 2021 remain in place meaning everyone must stay at home unless travelling for a very limited set of reasons, including for work.

This means people can no longer travel to take holidays or travel internationally unless for work or other legally permitted reasons. Those in breach of the rules face penalties starting at £200, rising to a maximum of £6,400.

People in all countries affected by the travel ban are encouraged to follow the local rules and check FCDO travel advice for further information.

All travellers, including those from exempt destinations, will still be required to show a complete passenger locator form on arrival into the UK unless they fall into a small group of exemptions.

COVID-19 Takes Its Toll On African Economy

An undertaker from the AVBOB funeral house in Soweto, carries into a cold storage room the remains of a COVID-19 coronavirus patient on July 21, 2020. MARCO LONGARI / AFP

 

Africa has so far been spared the worst of the coronavirus pandemic in terms of cases and deaths but its economy has not been so lucky, especially the poorer, smaller countries dependent on a single resource or sector.

The spread of the disease has also picked up speed in recent weeks, stoking concerns that worse is to come.

Here are some key features of the pandemic’s economic impact on Africa:

– Historic recession –

For 2020, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that the economy of sub-Saharan Africa will shrink 3.0 percent, “the worst outcome on record”. However, it should then grow 3.1 percent next year — although this is a much slower pace than elsewhere in the world.

In terms of per capita income, it has fallen 5.3 percent and back to 2013 levels in the space of just a few months.

Abebe Aemro Selassie, the head of the IMF’s African division, highlighted the fact that unlike in the 2008-09 global financial crisis, sub-Saharan countries were in a much worse budgetary position, with fewer resources available to face the crisis than their wealthier peers.

– Different countries, different impact –

African countries can be classified as three economic types:

— Diversified, such as in West Africa, with Ivory Coast, Senegal and Ghana. In the east, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

In these economies, activity has slowed significantly but they are still managing to grow, the IMF says.

— Oil producers such as Algeria, Angola and Nigeria. They have suffered very badly from the plunge in crude prices, especially in the early months of the crisis.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: Five Things To Know About Landmark UK Vaccine

Since then, prices have firmed slowly to arrive back at around $50 per barrel.

— Tourism-dependent countries such as Morocco, Tunisia and the Seychelles. The pandemic has brought travel to a virtual standstill, grounding airlines, which are struggling to survive.

“The crisis has confirmed the differences between diversified countries and the exporters of industrial raw materials but has also impacted North African countries which were in a growth rebound thanks to tourism since 2016,” noted Clement Gillet, economist with Societe Generale.

Standing on its own, South Africa, the continent’s second-biggest economy, has been hit the worst given that it was already in recession before the crisis hit.

Its economy is expected to shrink 8.0 percent this year.

– Raising funds –

Again, the picture is mixed when it comes to how different countries manage debt and raise fresh funds.

On the one hand, there is Zambia, which is heavily dependent on mining and became the first country to default on its debt last month, while Ivory Coast only two weeks later easily raised funds on the market.

Since then, “the financial markets have found their appetite for risk again, and especially for African debt, but investors are going to be much more careful about the details” and quality of the issuers, said Gillet.

Another important source of funds for African countries is remittances from their foreign workers and inevitably this has also suffered in the pandemic.

According to the World Bank, such remittances are expected to fall 14 percent to about $470 billion going into 2021.

“The impact of Covid-19 is pervasive when viewed through a migration lens as it affects migrants and their families who rely on remittances,” said Mamta Murthi, Vice President for Human Development and Chair of the Migration Steering Group at the World Bank.

– Debt –

G20 countries have already put in place a moratorium on interest payments for some 47 countries, most of them in Africa.

The G20 has also said its members are ready to re-negotiate some of the debt itself but such moves have limits.

“Firstly, about 40 percent of African debt is accounted for by the private sector,” and not by governments, noted Kako Nubukpo, an economist and a former minister of Togo.

“Certain countries, such as Benin, with a lot of private sector debt, oppose the moratorium because they fear that when they return to the market to raise fresh funds their risk premium will explode,” he said.

But Senegal on the other hand has welcomed the debt service moratorium, he added.

At the same time, Gillet noted the profile of Africa’s creditors has changed, “which makes any restructuring agreement very complicated”.

“Up until the end of the 1990s, you could get all the creditors around a table,” he said.

“But now you have the debt owed to China, which is not part of the Paris Club (of state creditors), then the debt owed to the private-sector lenders (the London Club of bankers), and then above all the debt raised on the markets.”

Lack Of Cooperation Hinders China’s Debt Relief To Africa

Molise Molise / AFP.

 

China last month joined other members of the G20 in agreeing to suspend interest payments on all loans owed by dozens of low-income countries, in a bid to ease pressure on developing economies ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.

Most of those nations are in Africa and getting China onboard was considered something of a coup for the G20. But there are some reservations about how far China will really deliver on its side of the deal.

What is the G20 agreement?

The world’s top economies agreed last month to suspend interest payments on all official loans owed by 73 low-income countries — 40 in Africa — until the end of June and extended the repayment period.

“The debt service suspension initiative has provided much needed ‘breathing space’ to countries,” said IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva.

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While the United Nations led calls for the suspension to be prolonged until the end of 2021, the G20 said it would examine the recommendation when the IMF and World Bank meet next spring “if the economic and financial situation requires” such an extension.

The final communique did not offer any guarantees.

– What is the situation at the moment?

China is the biggest investor in Africa, pumping about $148 billion in railroads, ports and airports in exchange for securing oil and commodity supplies such as copper and cobalt, according to data from the China Africa Research Initiative (CARI) at Johns Hopkins University.

These infrastructure projects are built by China lending the countries vast loans but Beijing has been criticised in the past for lending too much to poor countries, without scrutinising their ability to repay.

The 73 countries’ debt owed to government creditors, most of whom are in the G20, reached $178 billion last year, of which China is owed more than 63 percent.

However, with the pandemic hammering the global economy, those in the developing world, and particularly Africa, are feeling the pain even more with plummeting prices for oil — a major export for many countries — drying up a crucial source of income and their ability to pay.

What has China agreed to and why is it significant?

Chinese lenders have suspended debt service payments worth $2.1 billion, the highest among the G20. The group has in total suspended $5.3 billion worth of loan repayments by 44 debtor countries. The next biggest contributor is France with $810 million.

Beijing is by far the biggest creditor of African countries, and has up to now declined to participate in international frameworks to address debt issues. Joining the G20 plan marks a major shift for the world’s second biggest economy, raising hopes of greater transparency over its African debt portfolio.

China has forgiven African debt in the past but this time it is working with other countries.

But its reasons for joining the agreement might not be entirely altruistic, Elling N. Tjønneland, at the Chr. Michelsen Institute in Norway, told AFP.

China has opted to join “because there is no other option in many cases”, he said. “The borrower is not able to service the loan so Chinese lenders will have to find a solution.”

Is this as good as it sounds?

Simply put, no. The $2.1 billion figure compares with $13.4 billion owed to China this year by countries eligible for relief, according to the World Bank.

The lack of transparency and co-ordination among big Chinese policy banks has made it difficult to renegotiate debt, while African countries have borrowed more from private lenders than through official bilateral loans.

Private lenders are not covered under the G20 agreement and Chinese lenders operate in silos meaning there is a lack of information about what has been lent to whom.

“China has said that it was fully involved, but they didn’t have a process to get all of their big creditors… to work together, and take into account the new reality,” World Bank president David Malpass said at an online event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on December 14.

Also, Beijing is not part of the Paris Club, a group that includes most Western countries and multilateral lenders such as the World Bank and which shares data on loans allowing creditors to jointly negotiate and share the burden equitably.

“Chinese lenders prefer to address restructuring quietly on a bilateral basis tailoring programmes to each situation,” Deborah Brautigam, from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told AFP.

“This lack of transparency fuels suspicions about Chinese intentions.”

With this in mind, the G20 is urging countries to push for concessions from private lenders but analysts say they will likely play hardball, not wanting to give concessions for fear of setting a precedent for future debtors.

“About 31 percent of Africa’s external debt is owed to private bondholders compared to about 17 percent to China,” said David Dollar, a senior fellow at the China Center at the Brookings Institution.

“So there is a real need for cuts in interest rates or debt relief by private payers.”

Virus: Researcher Says More Work Needed To Identify Risk From Nigeria Strain

 

A researcher who identified a novel coronavirus variant in Nigeria has cautioned against automatic assumptions that it poses similar risks to strains that have emerged elsewhere.

The new strain was uncovered last week by scientists at the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID) in southeastern Nigeria.

ACEGID director Christian Happi said the variant was found in two out of 200 samples of virus collected from patients between August 3 and October 9.

The two samples were taken from the same state in Nigeria at different times.

They show a variant “different to the one that has been circulating in Nigeria, different from the one in South Africa and different from the one in the UK,” he said in an interview with AFP.

Britain tightened restrictions after finding a new strain there that it said was more contagious than initial forms of the virus.

South Africa says a new strain detected there could explain the rapid spread of a second wave that has especially affected younger people.

Happi stressed that scientists were racing to unlock knowledge about the Nigeria strain and urged people not to “extrapolate.”

“We have no idea, no evidence to say that this variant is linked to the spike we are seeing in Nigeria or not,” said Happi, explaining that samples from the latest cases were being analysed for an answer.

READ ALSO: New COVID-19 Strain Found In Nigeria Not UK Variant – Expert

Nigeria has recorded more than 82,000 cases of Covid-19, of which 1,246 were fatal.

Compared to the country’s population of some 200 million people, this number is tiny.

However, the tally of cases has been rising by several hundred a day since the start of December. There has been a major increase in Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital, prompting the authorities there to reinstate a curfew and gatherings of more than 50 people.

But the number of deaths in Nigeria has not experienced a proportionate surge.

Virus mutation

Happi, a Cameroon-raised, Harvard-trained professor of molecular biology, works in a state-of-the-art lab in Ede, southeastern Nigeria.

It is one of only 12 in Africa designed to sequence viral genetic code and track mutations — telltale changes that can be used to build a family tree of the microbe.

From this, the scientists at Ede believe the variant evolved “within Nigeria, I don’t think it was imported from anywhere,” said Happi.

“When changes occur, what matters most, what we’re focusing on, is the spike protein,” he said, referring to the prong-like protein by which coronavirus latches onto a cell and infects it.

Happi said there was a “tendency to extrapolate” after a discovery of this kind.

But he cautioned strongly against automatically assuming that what happened in one population setting would also happen elsewhere.

African difference?

“A lot of the models drawn at the onset of the pandemic, all got it wrong,” he said.

“They were saying by now that a third of the African population would be dead. So people need to think,” he said.

“It is very wrong to assume models based on knowledge that are not accurate or on assumptions that are dependent on data obtained from Europe or the US and transpose it to a continent like Africa — we are genetically different, we are immunologically different.”

All of Africa has recorded 2.4 million cases, according to an AFP tally — just 3.6 percent of the global tally, although testing is also far less widespread. The continent’s death toll of 57,000 is less than a fifth of that of the United States.

John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the African Union’s health agency, also urged patience as scientists worked to understand the Nigerian variant.

“Give us some time,” he said in a videoconference from Addis Ababa. “It’s still very early.”

Nkengasong appealed to Africans not to let down their guard, warning of the danger of a second wave of infection.

South Africa, Kenya, Cameroon, Other African Countries Confront A Second Wave Of COVID-19

Students do school work during a lesson at Albert Street Primary School, in Johannesburg CBD, on November 25, 2020. (Photo by LUCA SOLA / AFP)

 

After being relatively spared by coronavirus (COVID-19), Africa is bracing for the pandemic’s second wave, noting how the microbe has once more cut a swathe through rich countries in Europe and North Africa.

The continent’s most-hit nations are again having to contemplate stringent public health measures as they await the arrival of the vaccine cavalry.

In South Africa, the start of summer has triggered traffic jams on roads leading to coastal resorts.

But this year, there will be no long, lazy days spent on the beach.

In popular tourist destinations, the coronavirus is spreading at an alarming speed. Authorities have ordered partial closures, limits on the size of gatherings, and an extended curfew.

As the African country worst hit in the pandemic, with almost 900,000 documented cases, South Africa is tightening up health restrictions.

But around Africa, a continent of more than 1.2 billion people, there are stark contrasts in the prevalence of the disease.

New cases are emerging in East Africa, in northern and southern Africa, but the trend in West Africa is a decline, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), an arm of the African Union.

Rising cases in the east

In Uganda, every region has been affected by the pandemic. Neighbouring Rwanda, a far smaller but densely populated country, registered almost as many new cases in December (722) as since the beginning of infection (797).

Bars and nightclubs have been shut since March. Heavily fined for breaking regulations, the owner of a Kigali bar told AFP he had lost everything. “Clients were drinking, but the police forced us to close.”

In Kenya, a second wave of the virus struck in September and led to the closure of schools and the prolongation of a curfew. Some health professionals say they are already waiting for a third wave.

For several weeks, Africa CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) have been pressing African governments to up their game for an inevitable second wave.

Nevertheless, the epidemic first reported in Africa nine months ago has not been as destructive as experts feared, across a poor continent severely lacking in health care structures.

Africa has reported 2.4 million cases, just 3.6 percent of the world’s total, according to a tally compiled by AFP.

The whole continent has registered more than 57,000 deaths, fewer for instance than the total for France alone (59,072).

While the low level of screening might call into question the reliability of the statistics, no African country has observed a peak in excess mortality, which would be a sign of the virus spreading under the radar.

Experts are still trying to understand why Africa, so far, has not been affected to the same extent as other continents.

Explanations include Africa’s youthful population, cross-immunity derived from previous epidemics and a still predominantly rural economy, which means less density of population.

Economic hit

Early and draconian measures imposed on citizens in most African countries clearly put the brakes on the spread of the disease.

But the social and economic consequences of lockdown policies have been disastrous for the weakest economies.

In nations where the stigma of Covid-19 has become less visible, daily life has rushed to resume its course, largely at the expense of social distancing and other barrier gestures.

In central Africa, Cameroon is preparing to host the 2020 African Nations Championship football tournament in January, postponed from last April because of the virus. Officials are counting on a partial reopening of stadiums.

Authorities in Senegal face calls for public protests against restrictions, while in Equatorial Guinea, nightclubs are the only places that remain closed.

“Generally speaking, the virus is continuing to progress in Africa,” warned Isabelle Defourny, operations director at Medecins sans frontieres (Doctors Without Borders, MSF).

MSF has noted a resurgence of Covid-19 both in capital cities and in rural areas, notably in Chad.

“We’re also seeing an increase in severe cases where oxygen is needed, particularly in Bamako (Mali), which was not the case during the first wave,” Defourny said.

The battle Africa must wage for access to vaccines is far from won. The likely cost will be `around 4.7 billion euros ($5.76 billion), but only a quarter of the nations on the continent can muster the required resources, according to the WHO.