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Africa’s Race Against COVID-19

Summary:
With governments in Europe and the US fighting desperate national battles of their own against COVID-19, the continent may seem a remote concern. But if there is one thing the pandemic has taught us, it is that we are all connected in a world of shared risks. LONDON – There are now worrying signs that the COVID-19 virus has taken root in Sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s poorest region. The window of opportunity to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe is still ajar, but keeping it open will take decisive national action and international cooperation. Insuring the Survival of Post-Pandemic Economies Getty Images This

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With governments in Europe and the US fighting desperate national battles of their own against COVID-19, the continent may seem a remote concern. But if there is one thing the pandemic has taught us, it is that we are all connected in a world of shared risks.

LONDON – There are now worrying signs that the COVID-19 virus has taken root in Sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s poorest region. The window of opportunity to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe is still ajar, but keeping it open will take decisive national action and international cooperation.

Until recently, the low number of reported cases in Africa was fueling complacency. Perhaps higher temperature was limiting COVID-19 transmission rates. In a region with more children (who are less susceptible) and fewer elderly people than elsewhere, some experts conjectured that demography was offering some protection as well.

But the time for complacency is over. The Director General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, former health minister of Ethiopia, has urged Africa to wake up to the COVID-19 threat. Governments and aid donors are now preparing for the worst, belatedly responding to a coronavirus trajectory bearing the hallmarks of Europe’s experience: a small initial caseload that then grows exponentially.

Sub-Saharan Africa currently has 1,305 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus – less than 1% of the world total. Just 11 countries have more than 20 confirmed cases. Europe alone reported over 4,000 new cases in the 24 hours before I wrote this commentary.

But these headline figures obscure the scale of the pandemic threat. With few countries equipped to test for COVID-19, reported cases may represent the tip of an iceberg – and the numbers are growing fast. While most early cases were “imported” by visitors arriving from Europe, several countries – including South Africa, Senegal, Kenya, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo – are now...

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