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Speyside Group: Africa – COVID-19 Daily Alerts

Africa: COVID-19 Daily Alerts – 21st May

As the impacts of COVID-19 are becoming increasingly stark across the globe, our sense is that reporting on the crisis by traditional media has tended to provide broad, overarching data and information but does not capture or adequately convey how this crisis is impacting the operations of businesses, employees, and public services on the ground.

Speyside will be creating and circulating a daily briefing, like the one below, to provide this granular insight into developments in key market hubs. We appreciate that you may have staff, employees and partners across the region and recognise the importance of having a first-person view of impacts on day to day life and work market by market, in order to make key decisions in the weeks ahead. We are also circulating daily briefings covering the Lat Am, India, and ASEAN regions. Please let us know if you would like to receive these briefings.  

If receipt of this daily briefing would be useful to you during this time, please click this link to be added to their distribution list at no cost.

Speyside is also circulating daily briefings covering the CEE, Lat Am, India, and ASEAN regions.  For more information, or to receive bespoke reporting please email Speyside’s Africa Director, Frances Eberhard on frances.eberhard@speyside-group.com.

Thank you, and stay safe!  

Johannesburg, South Africa

Overview: South Africa’s infection rate has begun to spike with one third of the cumulative confirmed cases being recorded in the last week. To date the country has 23,615 cases and 481 deaths. While over 590,000 people have been tested and over 12 million people have been screened, the country is experiencing a shortage of testing kits which has resulted in long turnaround times, making tracing more difficult. 

President Ramaphosa has announced that 7 out of the country’s 8 metropolitan municipalities and 3 smaller municipalities in the Western Cape have been declared as hotspots. These areas will be monitored by specialised teams, supported by the Cuban doctors who arrived in April. The Western Cape, which comprises more than half of the country’s infections, remains a special concern. While across the country, there are 842 patients in hospital, 128 of whom are in ICU, the vast majority are concentrated in hotspots where we are starting to see pressure on both the public and private healthcare systems. 

After extensive consultations with all tiers of government, political parties, faith leaders, business and labour, President Ramaphosa announced on Sunday night that the entire country will move to a level 3 lockdown on 1 June. Almost all economic activity will be permitted to return to normal, subject to heightened health and safety protocols, with the following exceptions – 

  • consumption of food and alcohol in restaurants, bars etc.
  • cinemas, theatres, entertainment venues
  • gyms and fitness centres
  • conferences and gatherings
  • salons/hairdressers
  • accommodation for leisure 

Facing increasing pressure from the public as well as Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, the President announced that limited alcohol for home consumption will be permitted. The sale of tobacco products however remains banned. The curfew will be dropped and individual exercise will be permitted all day. New regulations will be released later today to provide further clarity. 

Two new measures have been announced easing travel. South Africans who work or study abroad will also be permitted to return and domestic business travel is also due to return. With uncertainty in the local aviation industry, it’s uncertain which airlines will resume limited operations. 

Impact: After almost 2 weeks of silence by the government which threatened to erode the public’s trust, the President’s announcement has been largely well-received by the public and business lobby groups, despite the decision being made amidst a sharp rise in infections as well as the country’s peak flu season. Pressure remains however from the tobacco industry and tourism and restaurant industry, who are expected to only open in level 2 or 1. While President Ramaphosa continues to say that the country’s underlying objective is to “save lives and protect livelihoods”, the decision to move the country to level 3 is largely motivated by the significant economic downturn over the last 2 months.  Gauteng, which contributes to almost one-third of the country’s GDP and has a population of 15 million people, is expected to lose 2 million jobs. A new survey also showed that as many as 75% of SMEs could face closure as a result of the lockdown. The country’s most vulnerable are also struggling to meet basic needs, with an increase in the number of people lining up to receive food parcels.

While it was anticipated that the Western Cape would be kept at level 4, it looks like the decision to move the entire country to level 3 may have been made to avoid entering into a political battle between the African National Congress led National Government and the Democratic Alliance led Western Cape. Concerns remain that lifting the lockdown in the Western Cape could push the province into a healthcare emergency. This is exacerbated by the shift in behaviour in Cape Town, the epicentre of infection, with many residents not abiding by the stay at home guidelines and multiple businesses operating in violation of the lockdown rules, despite President Ramaphosa urging a change in social behaviour to slow down infections. 

The country is likely to experience teething problems in the first weeks of the new lockdown level, particularly at potential super-spreaders such as workplaces and supermarkets. A slew of factories and supermarkets have been closed over the past month, including AngloGold Ashanti being forced to close one of the country’s deepest mines after over 100 workers tested positive. The CEO of retailer, Spar, has also expressed concern over managing crowds with the sale of alcohol and hot food receiving the green light. 

Worryingly, the President did not mention when Cabinet will present its revised economic policy and if a further stimulus package is on the cards. The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) announced its fourth interest rate cut this year, citing significant health, social and economic pressures to the economy which it predicts will contract by 7% (an adjustment from its April forecast of 6%). The SARB Governor has said that the interest rate cuts have been of limited value and may be somewhat muted by the lockdown. While moving to a lower lockdown level will ease some economic pressure, a number of industries will continue to be affected and will be looking to the government for further funding relief at a time when healthcare funding is being prioritised.

Nairobi, Kenya

Overview: Over the weekend, Kenya has seen a rise of 125 infections reaching a total of 1,286 cases and 52 deaths. At just over 60,000 tests conducted to date, the country’s testing remains very low in comparison with its neighbours in East Africa and other economic peers on the continent. With the Health Ministry citing a large portion of new infections as being imported via the Tanzanian or Ugandan borders, the country has prioritised testing to border points and is likely missing community spread within the country’s larger cities, with the exception of Eastleigh and Old Town in Nairobi and Mombasa which remain locked down and subject to testing. The Health Ministry has urged Kenyans to provide truthful contact details to allow for contact tracing which is crucial in containing and preventing super-spreader events. 

President Kenyatta’s National Coordination Committee is reported to be in consultation with stakeholders to announce a re-opening of the economy ahead of June 6, when the national curfew and partial lockdown of 5 counties is due to expire. Schools are also expected to reopen. President Kenyatta’s decision to reopen is motivated by a need to stimulate economic activity, particularly the aviation industry which is reported to be prioritised, and has been encouraged by the low fatality rate. As with other African countries, Kenya first experienced an economic crisis and has yet to experience a healthcare emergency, which may also be a consequence of very low testing capabilities. Public health experts are concerned that with already low compliance of safety measures, re-opening the economy too quickly could see a sharp rise in infections. 

Impact: On Saturday, President Kenyatta announced further details of his Ksh 53.7 billion plan to stimulate the economy. The country will adopt an industrial policy aimed to strengthen local manufacturing, create jobs and inject money in the pockets of its citizens by embarking on infrastructure projects. While Kenya has already received over $2 billion from the IMF, World Bank and African Development Bank, the Treasury has looked to parastatals to hand over surpluses totalling around Ksh 12 billion to fund the new plan. 

In addition to the support announced last week for tourism businesses and the country’s flower industry, the government plans to hire 5,000 health workers for a year, spend Ksh 1.7 billion on beds for public hospitals and Ksh 600 million to buy locally made vehicles as part of its “Buy Kenya Build Kenya” policy. The government will also inject money into the economy by hiring locals to build and repair roads and bridges. Almost Ksh 6.5 billion will be used to fund students via digital platforms. In keeping with the announced policy, the Kenyan Law Office has asked the state-controlled Kenyan Rail Corporation to consider terminating an agreement it has with a Chinese company for running some of its lines. 

Analysts are saying that another localisation motivated policy issued by the Kenyan Revenue Authority, which will see all importers of food, used cars, alcohol, clothing and office supplies being asked to pay taxes immediately upon entry into the country, may have the unintended consequence of disrupting supply chains. The decision may hurt Kenya’s position as a regional hub, which sees neighbouring countries warehouse goods in the country destined for export markets. Kenya has already come under fire for undermining regional relations by blaming infections on truck drivers entering from neighbouring countries with the country’s transport minister being required to settle disputes with his counterparts in Uganda and Tanzania. 

Politically, the ruling party has fractured, with Deputy President William Ruto and his faction quickly losing favour and power within the party. The divide has seen other political parties move to work with President Kenyatta and gain positions within his government. Ruto is being actively pushed out of the ruling party, including accusations that he has failed to champion farmers’ interests as well as distributing poisonous food in Kikuyu. 

Lagos, Nigeria

Overview: Nigeria has recorded 229 new cases in the last 24 hours bringing the total number of cases to 8,068, with 5,757 being active cases, and 233 deaths. The vast majority of cases are concentrated in Lagos State. Nigeria’s testing capabilities remain much lower than Ghana and its other neighbours, and despite exercising oversight from the Federal Government, testing across the country’s states continues to differ. In order to increase the country’s long term testing capacity for infectious diseases, President Buhari has green-lighted funding for 6 new molecular science laboratories with capacity for testing and diagnostics of COVID-19, Lassa fever and related viral diseases. 

Despite social distancing guidelines, Eid was celebrated in organised gatherings in around 25 of the country’s states, including in  Kano, where reports around high numbers of deaths continue to go unexplained. 

With the interstate travel ban, national lockdown and various partial state lockdowns expected to be lifted on 1 June, the plans announced last week by the Lagos State Governor to gradually open the economy in June have been welcomed by the business community, including the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Further details around the re-opening of the economy are expected to be announced during this week. 

Reports suggest that the controversial “NCDC Bill”, which if passed would grant broad powers to the Nigerian NCDC and the police to control the movement of people, may be put on hold in the Senate indefinitely after lawmakers indicated that certain critical issues will need to be resolved before the Bill can progress further. 

Impact: With the twin shocks of the oil price drops over the past 3 months and the global pandemic, the Federal Government is struggling to fund the country’s healthcare and economic response. The Federal Government’s focus has been to raise funds from international funders and promote local reliance. President Buhari has challenged Nigerian farmers on the need to embark on massive productive agricultural activities this farming season as Nigeria has no money for food importation, as the country’s foreign reserves remain low. In a move to grant further power to states, President Buhari has signed an executive degree which grants financial autonomy to state legislatures and judiciaries.

Nigeria has entered into a pledge with the UK to sustain trade relations. The pledge highlighted critical barriers requiring prioritised action that could boost trade between the two countries, including maintaining the freedom of movement of goods, simplifying and easing cross border trade in line with the WTO’s commitment. The pledge emphasises the need for the implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement, which was intended to come into effect in July but has been delayed due to the pandemic. Timelines around the implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement remain unclear, but as more of the continent lifts lockdown and seeks to stimulate economic activity, we may see a prioritisation of the agreement in coming weeks and months. 

The information provided here is accurate at the time of publication but as circumstances in some countries are changing regularly please contact Speyside Group at Frances.Eberhard@speyside-group.com for latest information.

About Speyside

Speyside is a global emerging market public policy and communications specialist with an unrivalled 25-year track record helping leading global companies and organisations with market entry and growth.

We advise on emerging market issues at a global c-suite level and work through a fully owned network of offices in Central & Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Asia, Africa and Latin America.

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