300,000 people may die of COVID-19 in Africa – UNECA

More than 300,000 people in Africa could lose their lives due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) said in a report on Friday.

“The pandemic could slow down the continent’s economic growth from 3.2 per cent to 1.8 per cent in a best-case scenario, pushing close to 27 million people into extreme poverty,’’ the report said.

“Africa’s fragile health systems could see additional costs being imposed on them because of the growing crisis that has to-date, resulted in over 16,000 infected Africans and claimed over 800 lives at the time of the report’s launch.’’

UN Under-Secretary-General and UNECA Executive Secretary, Vera Songwe, said $100 billion is needed to “urgently provide fiscal space to all countries to help address the immediate safety net needs of the populations’’.

Africa is particularly susceptible because 56 per cent of its urban population is concentrated in slums or informal dwellings and only 34 per cent of African households have access to basic hand washing facilities, she said.

“The economic costs of the pandemic have been harsher than the direct impact of the COVID-19.

“Across the continent, all economies are suffering from the sudden shock.

“The physical distancing needed to manage the pandemic is suffocating and drowning economic activity,’’ Songwe said.

Africa’s small and medium-sized enterprises risk complete closure if there is no immediate support, the new report said.

“The price of oil, which accounts for 40 per cent of Africa’s exports, has halved in value, and major African exports, such as textiles and fresh-cut flowers, have crashed.

“Tourism, which accounts for up to 38 per cent of some African countries’ GDP, has effectively halted as has the airline industry that supports it,’’ the report said.

It called for concerted efforts to keep trade flowing, especially in essential medical supplies and staple foods, with a strong policy push to fight the urge to impose export bans.

The report proposed that intellectual property on medical supplies, novel testing kits and vaccines be shared to help Africa’s private sector play its role in the response.

The UNECA said the report, “COVID-19: Protecting African Lives and Economies’’, is the culmination of in-depth analyses and extensive consultations with key representatives from civil society, international finance institutions and the private sector. (Xinhua/NAN)