Africa COVID-19 Update: Revisiting Policy Responses and the Long Road to Recovery

This brief looks at the experiences of the past four months in dealing and coping with COVID-19 pandemic in Africa and reflects on the responses governments have made in their fight against the pandemic and assesses how the dramatic steps such as restrictions on mobility of people, ‘lockdowns’, were effective in slowing down infections. Our assessment of the lockdowns shows patterns of strong compliance by citizens with significant variation by the number of confirmed cases and level of development. Countries that experienced higher number of cases and are relatively richer (they have the capability to mount a social protection program) witnessed large reductions in movement of people from their normal routine than those with lower confirmed cases or poorer economies. Reductions in mobility seem to have reduced infection rates, but the magnitude was not that large. A one standard deviation reduction in mobility (about 25%) was associated with 2.8 % reduction in infection rates. Generally, lockdowns (proxies for social distancing) accounted for 25% of the variation in infection rates in Africa. Other preventive measures such as the use of masks, frequent handwashing, and use of sanitizers remain very important, though quantifying the magnitude of their impact is difficult. We argue that lockdown is increasingly less popular and imposing it for extended period is an untenable strategy for many countries. We have also documented that even at the early stage its effectiveness is highly correlated with the institutional strength of a country, particularly in the area of political stability and adherence to the rule of law. Hence, the road ahead points towards developing public trust in following government guidelines and overhauling the health care financing system, including reforming its reach to the masses and increase its readiness to deal effectively with the pandemic. It is also time to rethink about the necessity of building an effective social protection program on the foundations of existing social and religious networks that have proved vital during this pandemic. More importantly, the developments of digital payments platform have been effective and efficient with social protection programs for countries that used them.