African Low Income Earners Bear the Brunt of Strict Covid-19 Measures

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to spread rapidly across the world, Sub-Sahara Africa is still recording a relatively low number of coronavirus cases. However, the situation in the coming days remained uncertain and many countries in the region are considering urgent action to contain the spread of the virus. At this writing, World Health Organization (WHO) statistics updates indicates that there are 512,701 confirmed cases worldwide while WHO Africa recorded 2,652 cases with 81 recovered and 50 deaths.

Racing Against the Coronavirus Clock

African countries like South Africa, Rwanda and Uganda are now racing against the speedy spread of the virus by bringing in new measures, among them recently-imposed lockdown in South Africa and a 7 pm to dawn curfew in Kenya that was announced by President Uhuru Kenyatta a few days ago as a preventive measure.

The existing situation is already extremely difficult. Millions of low income earners accounting 82% of people in rural areas in Africa are in extreme poverty earning little or no income according to World Bank. These low income earners will be heavily affected by Covid-19 countermeasures as countries begin to place restrictions on travel, impose lockdowns, set curfews and encourage social distancing that will weaken the ability of many businesses to operate.

Kenyan Construction Worker: ‘I Don’t Know How I Will Survive’

Joseph Mwangi 38, a father of three working in a construction sites in the outskirts of Nairobi Kenya’s capital fears that Covid-19 restrictions will hurt his operations and fears that he might soon lose his job and will not be able to provide for his family.

“Government directives are good but for people like me I don’t know how I will survive,” Mwangi said, adding that: “Construction work, you can’t do it in the house.”

However, it’s a relief for many like Mwangi when the government announces 7pm to dawn curfew instead of a full lockdown which still offers an opportunity for them to work.

“Yes that’s better, I can work for those hours as I adhere to the guidelines given by the ministry of health, which is good,” Mwangi said to InsideOver as he prepared to leave his work place much earlier in order to start working again in the early hours.

According to Alexander G. Owino, Consultant and Financial Sector Specialist based in Nairobi, Covid-19 will have a serious impact on the lives and livelihoods of Kenya’s low income earners. Owino added that the livelihoods, jobs or daily hustles of low income earners will experience a supply-side shock. “Covid-19 will severely disrupt transportation, supply chains and supplies of nearly all inputs, good or services, impairing the ability of informal sector producers to work or serve their customers,” Owino explained.

Sub-Saharan African GDP Set For Major Decrease

The Brookings Institute projected that the Covid-19 related economic disruptions emanating from emergency response will lower sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP growth in 2020 to between 1.5 per cent and 2.5 per cent, down from the projected 3.6 per cent before the outbreak of the virus.

The repercussion from disease outbreak and the rapid measures employed by the African governments has rippling effects on low income wage people like faith Anyango, a mother of two children working in one of Nairobi’s many restaurants. She is already bearing the brunt of the economic downturn as her work place has been temporarily closed and now she is jobless. “I left my two children at home with my mother, they rely on me to buy them food and other essentials,” Anyango said regretfully, speaking to InsideOver. “Now I don’t have a job, the business is low and we were told to go home. What can I do now?”

The Coming Hospital and Healthcare Overload

Owino also noted that the pandemic will likely place a heavy demands on hospitals and health facilities, further raising healthcare costs for those least able to bear them. In addition to raising the costs of living and at the same time reducing the incomes of the poor due to near-collapse of purchases from customers restricted by curfews and social distancing measures or ordered to quarantine and stay at home.

“The low income earners will face rising costs of essential household needs, particularly food and health,” Owino said.

UNESCO estimates that more than 120 countries have already introduced nation-wide school and university closures affecting 1.2 billion learners nearly three-quarters of the world’s student population and the number is expected to rise as the coronavirus looks set to spread further. Save the Children projected that risk goes beyond disruption to education – they also carry other risks to marginalized children and children from low-income households, because many may rely on school meals to support their daily nutrition.

As a result, it overstretches the already fragile household’s budgets. Gabriella Waajiman, Save the Children’s Global Humanitarian Director, says that current situation is unprecedented and the number of children suddenly out of school or university is equivalent to the entire population of India.

“As pressures mount on low income families, children may need to work to bolster family incomes, and girls especially may also face a disproportionate burden of caring for family members who contract the virus or taking care of younger children. If plans are not put in place urgently, some children run the risk of never returning to school at all,” Waajiman explained.

Africa’s Fight Against Covid-19

Meanwhile, the fight against the COVID-19 is gaining momentum in Africa, the continent receives major boost with Alibaba’s donation of 1.5 million test kits and 100 tons of supplies for infection prevention and control which arrived in Addis Ababa on March 22.

“This is a great honor and initiative and a great sign of the solidarity that the world needs at this critical time. The test kits and other materials will support African countries in their fight against this outbreak,” said Dr. Kohn Nkengasong, Director of Africa’s CDC. “We are facing a humanitarian situation, an economic situation and a security situation in the continent and Africa CDC clearly applauds the initiative of the Prime Minister and the Jack Ma and Alabama Foundation,” he added.