At least 300,000 people likely to die from coronavirus in Africa this year in ‘best-case scenario’, UN report warns

Agency say up to 29 million could be pushed into extreme poverty

Conrad Duncan
Friday 17 April 2020 15:51
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At least 300,000 people in Africa are likely to die from coronavirus, even in a best-case scenario, and 29 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty, the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) has warned.

Although Africa has reported fewer than 20,000 coronavirus cases so far, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned the continent could see as many as 10 million cases in three to six months – a number which would severely overwhelm health services.

“To protect and build towards our shared prosperity at least $100bn (£80bn) is needed to immediately resource a health and social safety net response,” a report by UNECA said.

The agency found that in the total absence of interventions to slow the spread of the virus more than 1.2 billion Africans would be infected and 3.3 million people would die this year.

Most African governments have already introduced some social distancing measures, ranging from curfews and travel guidelines in some countries to full lockdowns in others.

However, even in a best-case scenario, in which governments introduce strict social distancing once a threshold of 0.2 deaths per 100,000 people per week is reached, Africa would still see about 123 million infections, 2.3 million hospitalisations and 300,000 deaths from Covid-19.

Efforts to control the coronavirus, which has already put major strain on well-funded healthcare systems in Europe, will be complicated because 36 per cent of Africans have no access to household washing facilities.

The continent also has just 1.8 hospital beds per 1,000 people, compared to 5.98 beds per 1,000 people in France.

Although Africa’s young demographic could provide some relief, as Covid-19 has been found to be less severe for young people in general, many people in the continent are also vulnerable to the disease due to HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and malnutrition.

In addition, 56 per cent of the urban population is concentrated in overcrowded slums, where the virus could spread easily.

The report added that Africa imports 94 per cent of its pharmaceuticals and at least 71 countries have banned or limited exports of certain supplies deemed essential during the pandemic.

“In a best-case scenario ... $44bn (£35bn) would be required for testing, personal protective equipment, and to treat all those requiring hospitalisation,” the report said.

However, Africa is unlikely to be able to produce that level of funding as the continent’s economy could shrink by up to 2.6 per cent due to the pandemic.

“We estimate that between 5 million and 29 million people will be pushed below the extreme poverty line of $1.90 (£1.50) per day owing to the impact of Covid-19,” UNECA said.

Nigeria alone could lose between $14bn (£11.2bn) and $19.2bn (£15.4bn) in revenues from oil exports this year, while the prices of other African commodities exports have plummeted as well.

Lockdowns in Europe and the US will also affect Africa by threatening $15bn (£12bn) in annual textile and apparel exports as well as damaging its tourism sector, which accounts for 8.5 per cent of Africa’s GDP.

Additional reporting by AP

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