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  • Author or Editor: Howard Stein x
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In December 2019, news of yet another deadly respiratory disease arose –​ this time from Wuhan, China. Unlike recent zoonotic diseases like Ebola that suddenly and enigmatically emerged locally, African governments had time to prepare. On 27 January, after four Asian countries reported cases, the African Centre for Disease Control (CDC) initiated an emergency operations centre to coordinate the response. The first case was not detected on the continent until 19 February. Within a few weeks, many governments began to impose travel restrictions and mandatory quarantine periods for people arriving from Asia and Europe. In the following weeks, over 40 countries closed borders (Loembé et al, 2020).

On 28 April 2020, the US hit a million infected people with 2,000 deaths per day. Africa had recorded only 32,000 cases and 1,400 total deaths to that point. Influential publications like the Financial Times suggested: ‘Maybe, just maybe, the continent could be spared the worst of the pandemic’ (Pilling, 2020: 1). The article continued to point to all the positive factors including ‘early lockdown’, ‘less dense population’, ‘the effect of ultraviolet’, ‘a climate that meant people spent more time outside’ and ‘Africa’s youthful population’.

The optimism has quickly faded. While Africa took 93 days to hit the first 100,000 cases, the number doubled only 16 days later on 7 June. By the end of June, the numbers had roughly doubled again to nearly 400,000 cases and close to 10,000 deaths. By the third week in July, they again doubled to almost 800,000 infections with nearly 17,000 deaths.

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In July 2021, Africa entered a third wave of COVID-19 after months of rising cases, hospitalization and deaths. In January 2022, Africa was hit by a fourth wave, after six continual weeks of surging numbers. The situation is likely to worsen given low vaccination rates. Many writers have pointed to causes like vaccine apartheid and the grabbing of health supplies by wealthy countries. Others have focused on the lack of health goods and service capacities in African countries, with terrible implications for their health and domestic economic conditions. Less has been written about how the historical patterns of financial flows have created these trends, how these flows had changed prior to COVID-19 and how the pandemic has affected debt levels and influenced the mix between aid, remittances, sovereign bond markets and other private flows and Chinese lending. A particular focus will be on how the West, through the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, is attempting to use the crisis to re-empower its presence in Africa.

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