Whisper it. Africa seems to be avoiding the worst of the coronavirus death tolls. I say whisper it because I am superstitious, and because the other shoe might yet still drop.
But so far, the calamity that we were braced for in some countries on the African continent does not seem to be unfolding.
I remember, at the start of the pandemic, how health experts scrambled to list the dire conditions in Africa. The low number of ventilators (some countries had ventilator numbers in the single digits), and the mentions of all the conditions that make Africa a sitting duck for the virus: the inability to socially distance, the communal living, in some areas, the lack of running water.
It hasn’t happened. Yet. But even if it will, it is a staggering deviation from the path that the pandemic took in much more developed countries. There is speculation as to why things didn’t take the predicted turn, but no one can find a full explanation for it.
Initially, it was assumed that due to lack of testing and efficient healthcare systems the real numbers were obviously much higher than those reported officially. It was also assumed that for countries with tourism as a big revenue stream, there would be some deliberate under-reporting of the numbers of deaths so as to not knock the tourism.
But let’s assume that the virus took hold in Sudan as much as it did in Britain where deaths peaked at over a thousand a day. How do you hide a thousand deaths a day? You can’t.
I would like to think, as a Better Politics correspondent, that there is something about how some countries in the south responded that is responsible for the relatively low numbers so far.
Here’s what was done differently to Europe and the United States:
Almost the entire continent locked down the moment the threat became apparent, and shut down all travel. South Africa’s airport is still closed more than six months on. Some countries even imposed curfews as early as 6pm during Ramadan. In others, schools and universities remained shut even after the lockdown was eased.
There are also some lifestyle differences to which relatively low infection and mortality rates might be attributable. There are few concentrations of elderly people, that is, few old people’s homes and so less opportunity for there to be hotspots. But all the above doesn’t explain the dramatic difference in numbers.
There were even theories that warmer weather inhibits the spread of the virus, but even that has been disproved by the way the virus has soared in warmer climates such as Brazil.
I would like to think that there is some logic to it, and that logic is somehow related to the early action and strict observance of lockdown, but I can’t find enough links. It’s a real head-scratcher. The only thing I can think of is that the coronavirus behaves in ways that we still don’t understand.
In the meantime, it’s worth paying attention to how African countries have coped so far, in the hope that others still struggling with containing the virus, might learn something.