Regions Apart: How South Africa and Nigeria responded to COVID-19

Informal trader has his temperature checked at the gate of Cape Town market on day five of national lockdown on March 31, 2020. Image, Getty: Nardus Engelbrecht
Informal trader has his temperature checked at the gate of Cape Town market on day five of national lockdown on March 31, 2020. Image, Getty: Nardus Engelbrecht

Africa reacted rapidly and collectively to COVID-19. The AU, under the chairmanship of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2020, mobilised health ministers before the first case was reported on the continent, predicated by fears the virus would overwhelm fragile health systems and sluggish economies.

Summary

  • Africa reacted rapidly and collectively to COVID-19, predicated on fears that the disease would overwhelm fragile health systems and sluggish economies.
  • The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention was pivotal to mounting a continental approach to the effects of COVID-19. The continent called for debt relief, pooled procurement and fair vaccine distribution with a united voice.
  • South Africa’s precarious economic position and social inequalities were exacerbated by the pandemic. Trade was severely disrupted, as were tourism, hospitality, food security, small businesses and many other sectors. President Cyril Ramaphosa has been praised for decisive leadership, regular communication and reliance on scientific information.
  • In Nigeria, the pandemic has been far less severe to date, but less testing has been conducted compared to South Africa. Nevertheless, COVID-19 put additional pressure on Nigeria’s ailing public healthcare systems.
  • Nigeria has drawn heavily on its experiences with polio and Ebola to respond to COVID-19 and instead of a nation-wide lockdown initially, Nigeria imposed lockdowns in heavily affected states. This approach led to tensions between the federal and state governments.
  • In both countries, security forces have often used violence to enforce lockdown regulations, and there have been threats to media freedom. The lockdowns have been severely criticised for their adverse effects on jobs and livelihoods. 
  • Africa has thus far been more prepared and has fared much better than expected in handling COVID-19, but the on-going impact from economic hardships will have a much great and longer lasting impact than the deaths caused by the virus. Countries like Nigeria and South Africa have managed to ‘flatten the curve’ but are still dealing with the socio-economic consequences of lockdowns.
2 Dec 2020

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Research by
Series
SAIIA Occasional Paper No 314, November 2020
Region
Middle East & North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa
Country
Nigeria, South Africa
SAIIA Programme
African Governance and Diplomacy
Tags
COVID-19, coronavirus

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