The Covid-19 pandemic has not been as significant a public health issue in some parts of Africa as it has been in other parts of the world, University of Birmingham International Development Department head Dr Jonathan Fisher said during an Australia-Africa Minerals & Energy Group webinar on August 4.
He noted, however, that the situation differed across each country on the continent owing to a number of different factors.
Fischer emphasised that there was no single African story for the pandemic, with South Africa, for example, fifth in the world in terms of the number of reported cases, while other African countries have far fewer cases.
However, he highlighted that the figures from other countries may not always be reliable, with some having a lack of infrastructure for adequate testing capacity, and/or underreporting the actual figures.
This lack of data was leading to fears of a silent pandemic in these counties, he said.
Fischer indicated that the differences across the countries were informed by various factors, including levels of international exposure. He noted that Africa was not as linked into the global economy as many other parts of the world, save for South African and Nigeria, which means less of a threat of exposure to the pandemic.
There is also the factor of demography, with many people on the continent based in rural areas, with not necessarily the same amount of mobility compared with the rest of the world or the same level of interaction as in densely populated urban areas.
However, there are also instances where many people are based in informal settlements, and are closely linked, and therefore at a disproportionate risk to the virus, such as in South Africa, Nigeria and Ethiopia, he pointed out.
Another factor is that of age, with the virus disproportionately affecting older people. South Africans' average age is a decade older than the rest of the continent, resulting in a higher risk noted Fischer.
Fischer also mentioned the impact of the pandemic on governance in Africa. He said there are questions about whether the virus is contributing to new political implications, or whether it merely embedded itself into what was already happening in countries and exacerbating governance shortcomings.
He indicated that there have definitely been examples of the pandemic being used to justify authoritarian practices, such as the cancellation of elections; lockdown rules being used to abduct and stifle political opposition; and using the excuse of enforcing lockdowns for severe State and police violence.
He noted that these events were already occurring to some degree before the pandemic and that the pandemic was providing an excuse or less international and local scrutiny for these actions.
However, Fischer stated that the various measures undertaken in different countries around the world to contain the virus and support citizens could lead to authoritarian regimes losing support from citizens owing to a lack of transparency, support and loss of resources and livelihoods; and therefore, rather than entrenching authoritarian regimes, the pandemic could be a catalyst for regime change.