South Africa and Tanzania: A cautious tale in Covid-19 response

Tanzania President John Magufuli has proclaimed victory over in his country. [Standard]

Whenever we are hit by a new challenge, the first reaction is always to look within for solutions, until innovations start cropping up from the talented people from various sectors and regions.
However, the solution is always to invent, innovate and implement a way out of the crisis there being no hard or high-speed resolution at hand.
Months on since was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, different countries have taken different approaches having faced no similar peril in more than a century. The 1918 Spanish Flu was the only reference point for the world but even back then, the majority of countries were yet to come into existence. For instance, in 1918 Kenya was a British Protectorate in East Africa before becoming a full colony.
Today, the majority of countries have taken a pragmatic approach by putting health protocols first and scaling down economic activity with the view to stopping the virus from spreading.
The popular decision has however come at a cost for economic growth as millions now lie unemployed while the global economy races towards another recession.
Other countries have meanwhile attempted to paddle their boats upstream by keeping their economies open.
Whichever approach the results, however, tell of a cautionary tale with no one measure being of a magic bullet to either contain the spread of the virus or minimise the damage to world economies. Alcohol ban
In Africa, South Africa and Tanzania contrast sharply in their response to the pandemic but with surprising results.
As the pandemic ravaged the continent, South Africa implemented what was Africa’s toughest restrictions to break the cycle of infections. Among the measures implemented was a blanket ban on the sale of alcohol and tobacco along with a countrywide lockdown.
President along with health minister Zweli Mkhize earned praises for the prompt reaction to the pandemic with the strict restrictions.
The battle for lives, however, soon hit livelihoods as jobs were lost in hundreds of thousands.
According to brewer Anheuser Busch, one million livelihoods were thrown into agony as South Africa banned the sale of alcohol. The brewer suspended an equivalent 12.8 billion rands in new investments while more investment freezes were recorded in sectors such as real estate and manufacturing firms.
Months on since the first round of restrictions, South Africa is surprisingly neither winning in combating the virus nor protecting livelihoods. The country now holds more than half the continent’s cases and the fifth highest in the world.
The success of the restrictions on public health care are yet to be substantiated as its trend of infection grows unabated.
With nearly 600,000 cases, the pressure on local health facilities remains ever so gruesome despite months of supposed controls and buffers.
Meanwhile, the South African economy has taken a turn for tough times soaking up a double whammy.
According to the country’s Finance Ministry, South Africa’s GDP is expected to contract by about 7.2 per cent this year, a deeper plunge than the Sub-Saharan African projection of estimated 5.1 per cent by the World Bank.
Moreover, the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio is expected to hit about 140 per cent over the next decade sliding the nation into debt distress.
For the first time in its history, South Africa may have been forced to take out a loan facility at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to buttress her economy.
President Ramaphosa has subsequently announced a 40-billion-rand stimulus fund or an equivalent $2.3 billion. The countrymen, however, feel the initiative has had a painfully slow start. The government meanwhile faces backlash in the form of lawsuits from trade unions which have objected to the freezing of part of civil servant sector wages.
The ruling ANC party has also found itself in cross-hairs over the alleged misappropriation of funds with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) reportedly being purchased at inflated costs in a scandal implicating some senior leaders.
Despite over three million tests – the highest on the continent- and restriction measures lasting months, the pandemic in South Africa is far from over.
President Ramaphosa was earlier forced to end the ban on alcohol sale along with the imposed inter-provisional travel ban.
Closer home in Tanzania, there are only 509 cases and 21 deaths reported so far after the country stopped testing and reporting on May 26. More than 100 days on, President John Magufuli has declared Tanzania free of and has reopened the country.
Schools have re-opened, travel in and out of the country allowed and there are no requirements on masks wearing.
While critics have termed the country’s response as slow and unclear compared to global markets, there has been no authentication on overrun medical facilities or high fatalities as in the case in South Africa.
President Magufuli has been pro-livelihoods with the Finance Ministry recently raising its growth projection for the year.
Tanzania has further appraised itself as a low-middle income country joining the ranks of Kenya. Doubts, however, persist on the validity of its macro print.
Outside the continent, Sweden has attracted international attention by moving away from a common European approach. There have been no full lockdowns, restaurants have remained open while schools were not shut down for younger children.
The only limitations have been on visitations to care homes by officials aimed at building a protective layer among its most vulnerable.
Queried on the success of its approach, Swedish Health Minister Lena Hallengien has said it is it too early to draw any firm conclusions while calling the process a continuous assessment test.
The high death rate in the country in comparison to other Nordic peers has been criticized, nevertheless, daily cases have been falling.
The wider European continent is meanwhile registering the second wave of infection in just weeks after the easing of measures with a second hit risking any gains made months before through containment measures. Further afield in the US, the country’s pandemic response is expected to shape the upcoming November General Elections as the opposing parties face off on the most suitable response to the pandemic.
So far, no one policy response has proven to be clear cut leaving a cautious tale of how anyone country engages in containing the pandemic.
In Kenya, the government and private sector are trying very hard to reach a balance between health safety and revving up the economic engine to keep businesses moving.
 President Uhuru Kenyatta is endeavouring to strike a balance between managing what he has termed as two competing rights of health and earning a living.
The success of the global economy depends on our discipline and resilience while managing health strategies consistently.
 Let us all keep safety first in these tough times. -Mr Diaz is a Brand Africa Trustee
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