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Standing with China in the fight against COVID-19: The case of selected West African economies

By Lucy Anning and Emmanuel Agyapong Wiafe (People's Daily Online)    16:55, May 07, 2020

Introduction

Economic and political relations between China and Africa go back to the 14th century, during China’s Ming Dynasty, with the voyages of Admiral Zheng He in East Africa (See Anning and Vhumbunu, 2018, Anning 2019). In December 2019, an outbreak of unknown cause pneumonia occurred in Wuhan, China's Hubei province. Since Jan. 3, China has been regularly informing the WHO, relevant countries and regions and China's Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan on the pneumonia outbreak. Due to the alarming levels of spread and its severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction, the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on 11th March 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic was confirmed to have spread to Africa on 14 February 2020. According to BBC News, the first confirmed case in the sub-Saharan African region was recorded in Nigeria, with most of the identified imported cases arriving from Europe and the United States rather than from China. This article (with a focus on selected West African countries, ie Ghana, Nigeria, Togo and Benin) addresses West African economies standing with China in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, the measures taken following the shining example set by China in its ability to curtail the spread of the virus while minimizing overall mortality rates. The strategies have been modified to fit geographical considerations. Finally, the expected outcome of these adopted and modified strategies are outlined in the concluding section.

The West African Region’s Stand with China in the Fight against the COVID-19 Pandemic

There is no doubt that China has shown great competence and expertise in controlling the spread of coronavirus. During China’s attempt to curtail its spread, several short term strategies spanning into long term effects were adopted. Notable among the several strategies was the commissioning of emergency hospital facilities in Wuhan to treat infected persons, total economic lockdown, mass mobilization and masks and checks despite the effect these measures could have on trade, investment and overall GDP. The World Health Organization’s leader believes that China's battle with the coronavirus offers a beacon of hope, but others question whether other countries, especially Western African democracies, will or can afford to pursue China's strategy, given that there is a particular struggle for economic development in this region.

However, experts have been worried about COVID-19 spreading to Africa, and particularly West Africa, as many of the healthcare systems on the continent are inadequate, lack equipment, funding, have insufficient training of healthcare workers, and inefficient data transmission. It was feared that the pandemic could be difficult to keep under control in Africa, and could cause huge economic problems if it spread widely (see Maclean, 2020 and NPR.org.). There is a very low supply of ventilators in the region, with even basic supplies like soap and water subjected to shortages.

Source: News sources and state health department websites in Ghana, Nigeria, Togo and Benin

The table above shows the data related to coronavirus since it was first recorded in the West African region. In Ghana, the first two cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on 12 March 2020, when two people returned from Norway and Turkey, while Nigeria, Togo and Benin’s cases were first confirmed on 27th February 2020, 6th March 2020 and 16th March 2020 respectively.

Control Measures Adopted by Selected Countries in West Africa

In Ghana, following the first confirmed cases, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufu Addo called for public awareness about the pandemic among Ghanaian nationals. Nine days later, Ghana saw an increase in the recorded cases of infected persons to 214 cases. This resulted in the imposition of strict restrictions on movement, where residents of the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area and Kasoa and the Greater Kumasi Metropolitan Area and its contiguous districts were told to stay at home for two weeks, in order to give the economy an opportunity to stave off the pandemic. According to Ghana Health Service (GHS) statistics on COVID-19 in Ghana, as at 26th April 2020, there were 1,550 confirmed cases in Ghana. The number included 11 victims who had succumbed and 155 people who had recovered. To this effect, the government of Ghana enforced the active wearing of face masks as part of efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19. Also, considering the current hardship in the Ghanaian economy, the government of Ghana directed the Ghana Water Company Ltd and the Electricity Company of Ghana to ensure the stable supply of water and electricity during this period. In addition, there will be no disconnection of electricity supply, while the water bills for all Ghanaians will be absorbed for the next three months, i.e. April, May and June. All water tankers, publicly and privately-owned, are also going to be mobilized to ensure the supply of water to all vulnerable communities. Furthermore, the government of Ghana, in collaboration with the National Board for Small Scale Industries (NBSSI), Business & Trade Associations and selected Commercial and Rural Banks, prepared to roll out a soft loan scheme of up to six hundred million cedis (GH¢600 million), which will have a one-year moratorium and two-year repayment period for micro, small and medium scale businesses. All borders have also been closed while all social gatherings of more than 25 people including all schools (both private and public institutions from preschool to universities) markets and club halls, churches, mosques and funerals were banned until further notice.

In Nigeria, the Federal government instructed institutions to shut down for 30 days as a lockdown measure to limit the spread of COVID-19. It has also banned public gatherings. The state government of Lagos further asked schools to close and banned public gatherings of more than 50 people, particularly religious gatherings (see Oyeleke, Sodiq, 30 April 2020). However, unlike Ghana, in the case of Nigeria, there was no order from the government to shut down markets and club halls. Several schools in Nigeria have shut down, following the directives of the federal government at Abuja. This led the management of one of the most populated schools in Nigeria, the Federal Polytechnic Nekede, Owerri to declare an emergency holiday serving as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, stating that the emergency holiday will last for 30 days.

The Togolese government declared a three-month state of emergency to curtail the spread of the virus. In addition to this, a curfew from 7 pm to 6 am local time was imposed, unlike what was experienced in Ghana and Nigeria. Again, Togo also responded by suspending flights from Italy, Germany, France and Spain. Other international events are cancelled, and the borders remain closed. Restrictions were imposed on Lomé, Tsevie, Kpalime and Sokode but there is no national lockdown (UNDP Togo, April 2020; IPPF, 24 March 2020). To cushion the citizens against the restrictions put in place by the government, $650 million has been set aside as part of the National Solidarity and Economic Recovery Fund. The measures that have been set up also include a National Response plan. In partnership with development agencies, the response plan to COVID-19 aims to reduce the pandemic’s socio-economic impact and to halt transmission of COVID-19 further. The World Bank has approved $8.1 million to assist Togo’s efforts to further boost the fight against the disease. According to the World Bank (April 29, 2020), The Covid-19 Emergency Response Project will allow Togo to strengthen surveillance, early detection and confirmation of cases, which is in line with the Regional Disease Surveillance System Enhancement (REDISSE) project.

Benin’s efforts in the fight against the pandemic have not been any different to those of the rest of the West African countries. Since the time Benin confirmed a case on March 17, 2020, several measures, such as enhanced screening and quarantine of individuals travelling into the country have been put in place. The borders of Benin remain closed. In addition to the measures taken, one interesting measure is the use of social media and other digital platforms as a source of education on preventive measures and information dissemination (WHO International, 2020). The authorities in Benin did set up a barrier around the 10 most affected cities and banned travel in and out of them. Social distancing and bans on social gatherings of more than 10 people are in force. The wearing of face masks in public has been made mandatory, while school remains closed until the middle of May. These mitigation and preventive measures have cost the economy about 0.1% of GDP, which amounts to $17 million. Benin’s policy has set out to accommodate the demand for loan rescheduling by firms and also to postpone renewable debt. Electronic payments are being promoted, and reference rates are being lowered to be close to the monetary policy rates.

Conclusion

In this global crisis, African economies are not being left out in the struggle alongside China to combat the pandemic. This period has seen many policy responses from different nations, economic blocs and development agencies. Chief among them are measures taken to halt the spread of the virus - social distancing, sanitary practices, schools being shut down and fiscal and monetary policy actions. These measures, especially fiscal injections, have proved to be a source of stability in this era of global negative shocks to output and productivity. Though African economies are still struggling to overcome and conquer the COVID-19 pandemic, commendation is in order for the efforts that have been made so far.

References

COVID-19 Impact: What we know so far -Togo. Retrieved on 24th March 2020 https://www.ippf.org/blogs/covid-19-impact-what-we-know-so-far-togo

“Policy Response to Covid-19” Retrieved from https://www.imf.org/en/Topics/imf-and-covid19/Policy-Responses-to-COVID-19 on 30th April 2020

“Enabling and Accelerating the National Response to the impact of COVID-19” Retrieved on 30th March, 2020 from s://www.undp.org/content/dam/rba/docs/COVID-19-CO-Response/undp-rba-covid-togo-apr2020.pdf

"African Countries Respond to the Spread of COVID-19” NPR.org. Retrieved 23 March 2020

 “Corona virus, (COVID-19) Gouvernement de la République du Bénin (in French). Retrieved 27 April 2020

“COVID-19 Updates, Ghana” Ghana health service.org. Retrieved 26 April 2020

“NCDC COVID-19 Page”. Nigerian Centre for Disease Control. Retrieved on 26 March 2020.

“Nigeria confirms first corona virus case” BBC News, 28 February 2020. Retrieved 24 March 2020

“Benin goes on digital offensive against COVID-19” Afro.who.int/news. Retrieved on 23rd March 2020

Anning, L. (2019). China’s ECM Model in Sustainable Management of Rivers: Drawing Lessons for the Zambezi River Basin from the Case of Mekong River. Contemporary Chinese Political Economy and Strategic Relations, 5(1), 363-VI.

Anning, L., & Vhumbunu, C. H. (2018). Promoting production capacity cooperation and industrialization through energy infrastructure development: The case of China-Ghana partnership. Contemporary Chinese Political Economy and Strategic Relations: An International Journal, 4(3), 1061-1103.

Maclean, Ruth (17 March 2020). “Africa Braces for Coronavirus, but Slowly”. The New York Times. Retrieved 25 March 2020.

Oyeleke, Sodiq (29 April 2020). “Updated: Nigeria records 195 COVID-19 cases, total now 1532” The Punch Newspaper. Retrieved on 29 April 2020

Oyeleke, Sodiq (30 April 2020). “Breaking: Nigeria records 196 new COVID-19 cases, total now 1728” The Punch Newspaper. Retrieved on 30 April 2020  

About the author

Lucy Anning (Ph.D) is a lecturer at the Accra Institute of Technology (AIT), Accra, Ghana and an associate researcher with the Ghana China Friendship Association (GHACHIFA) and a member of the Center for West African Studies of University of Electronic Science and Technology of China (UESTC).

Emmanuel Agyapong Wiafe is a researcher and academic with about 8 years of research experience in the field of economics and as a lecturer for the past 6 years. He is a member of the Center for West African Studies of UESTC. He currently lectures at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration at the Department of Economics. 

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