COVID-19: Regional Quarantine may be more effective in Africa, …, lockdown is a nonsense - Prof. Alex Broadbent
A professor of Philosophy at the University of Johannesburg, Alex Broadbent has ruled out the lockdown measure instituted by African Countries as part of efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
African countries like Ghana, South Africa, Nigeria, and Rwanda have subscribed to the lockdown measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
He argued that in Africa where people find it difficult to feed themselves, a lockdown is inconsequential.
“Lockdown has immediate ramifications for individuals who live on a hand-to-mouth basis, and for their networks of dependents. If people cannot eat, they will not obey a lockdown; nor is there any reason, practical or moral, for them to do so.”
According to Prof. Alex, a lockdown will cause the death of young children who are malnourished.
“When we lockdown, we are making a choice. We are saving the lives of some older people and causing the deaths of some younger people, especially children, who are most at risk of malnutrition and diseases of poverty. Maybe it’s the right thing to do. But when we talk about saving lives, we should factor in the lives we are taking. The net number is what counts.”
In a write-up by the South African Professor, the biggest public health risk in Africa is not COVID-19 but the consequences of regional and global measures designed to reduce its effect on public health.
He said “The cost-benefit analysis of these measures yields a different result in Africa than in Europe, North America and large parts of Asia. Despite the strikingly different cost-benefit analysis for the African region, we’re doing the same thing here as everywhere else, or trying to: we’re locking down.”
He added that the accommodation structure and the shared public facility does not really make room for a lockdown in Africa.
“And it doesn’t take much reflection to realize that we’re not really locking down, given how many people live in overcrowded accommodation where the nearest sanitation is a shared facility at a considerable distance from your shack or in rural areas.”
In his words, he said, “given the apparent international consensus and the need to demonstrate strong leadership, leaders in the region may have little political alternative.”
Mr. Broadbent believes the predicament of African leaders leave the residents of the continent in a devastating manner with many facing more severe and immediate threats to life.
The professor continues by asking these mind-boggling questions; Can the global community have really got it so wrong? Can regional leaders have been so poorly advised? Why are we taking COVID-19 so seriously, if the threat is so much less serious here than elsewhere, and the costs of lockdown so much greater?
Reports so far indicate that the biggest risk factor for serious, critical or fatal COVID-19 is age.
Alex Broadbent in his write-up against the lockdown measure referred to a study by the Imperial College London, which indicated that the benefits of mitigation, considering only age, are considerably lower for the sub-Saharan African region than elsewhere.
Worldometer estimates the case fatality rate in the 10 to 30 age category at 0.2%. Under the age of 10, it’s 0.0%. A recent paper in The Lancet estimated a 0.32% fatality rate in its study population of people aged 60 under and 6.4% death rate for people over the age of 60.
The median age in Africa is 18 and in Europe is 42. Africa is the world’s youngest continent by far.
Considering Africa to be the youngest continent by far and the fatality rate for COVID-19 to be high amongst the aged, Professor Alex Broadbent said “We must ask, then, whether African nations (including South Africa) have as much reason to fear COVID-19 as regions where so much of the population is older.”
As of April 12, 2020, 52 African countries have confirmed 13,636 cases with 742 deaths and 2,358 recoveries. Lesotho and Comoros are the only Virus-free countries.
What Alternative is Prof. Alex Broadbent proffering?
The Director of the Institute for the Future of Knowledge and professor of philosophy at the University of Johannesburg, suggests that African countries should rather engage in regional quarantine.
“Lockdown areas where this makes sense, and which have the older portion of the population, but don’t lock down where it’s impossible to do so. Regional quarantine may be more effective in Africa, where conurbations are separated by large distances. The benefits of separating at-risk populations also deserve fuller consideration,” he said.
The underpinning of his reason is that in Africa and other developing regions, older people in urban areas often move back to rural areas. In rural villages, it may be possible to separate older and younger people more easily than in a crowded township or slum, where lockdown is a “nonsense”.
He added that the problems must be solved by the people themselves.
“This is not my idea, but an idea suggested by the leaders of a village in a rural part of Africa. And this shows us the best idea of all — ask people to solve the problem for themselves. People who live in a community know their way of life,” he indicated.
“It’s time that African leaders, and especially those in South Africa, get themselves, advisers who are awake to the differences between Africa and the places where lockdown was conceived, and who are willing and able to model the full consequences — not just death by COVID-19 — of a full range of measures,” he admonished.
Impact of COVID-19 on African Economy
The African Union (AU) in its reports said vulnerable African economies could be strangled by the coronavirus pandemic with the possibility of up to 20 million job losses and the potential for social unrest. This assertion has also been concurred by some analysts who have predicted that more than 20 million job losses will be experienced in both the informal and formal sectors of the African economy.
The AU has stipulated eight months as the period for the African Continent to control the virus, predicting that during this period, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the African continent could be reduced by more than 4.5%. The report also indicates that there has been a reduction in imports of basic goods from China since the pandemic begun while South Africa and Ghana have experienced hikes in prices of goods.
The big oil-producing countries have begun experiencing sinking oil prices and this would disrupt the economies of these countries. The report identifies the threat to Nigeria’s budget deficit as the country’s projected oil price at US$67 per barrel is being relinquished by the languishing price of crude at just US$26 per barrel due to the pandemic.
"Overall, Africa could lose up to 20 to 30 percent of its fiscal revenue,” the report predicted.
Despite the economies of African countries being hit hard by the coronavirus, various governments have introduced some fiscal measures and stimulus packages to lessen the impact of the virus on their economies and to make life comfortable for their residents regardless of COVID-19.