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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Covid-19 in The Gambia: impact analysis (continued)

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By David Abraham

4. Open-market traders
With the suspension of open market trading for 21 days, these traders who generally survive from hand to mouth will be facing the prospect of complete unemployment, while many of their goods are perishables. Urgent government intervention will be required to prevent or mitigate a humanitarian crisis.

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5. E-commerce operators
The Gambia has a burgeoning e-commerce industry that generally operates on very unique model. Since remittances are a big part of the Gambia’s GNP, and eventually make their way into GDP, a number of operators within this industry operate platforms that allow relatives in the diaspora to directly purchase goods and services for their relatives in the Gambia. Any shock to the global economy may have a significant impact on the spending power of the Gambian diaspora, and thus hamper e-commerce in the long run.

The biggest winners?
In times like these, there are no long-term winners. Depending on how long the Covid-19 crisis lasts, a global economic recession is a likely certainty. Already, stock markets around the world have taken a heavy beating, and The Gambia is not likely to be insulated from these effects. That said, there are a few industries that are not likely to be as badly affected as others, discussed below:

1. Retailers
Retailers face the most prospect of making gains in this period. As many people prepare for the worst, there may be a run-on-the shops leading to spikes in revenue. The government will also have to keep a watchful eye on greedy retailers who may attempt to manipulate prices through hoarding.

2. Tech firms
Web designers, digital marketers, social media mangers, graphic designers, have always been able to get their work done remotely. For many of these workers, their laptops are their mobile offices. These workers can easily take a break from reporting to a brick and mortar store and work safely from home. For management, this might translate to significantly lower expenditure on overheads, while remote workers are able to work within their comfort zones.
Everyone else other than top level workers such as CEO’s and policy-level government employees is likely to either face some prospect of loss of income or significant downtime.

What does the future hold?
A lot depends on whether or not we see an uptick in local cases in the coming days, as well as the behavior of the Virus in current hotspots. One could argue that proactive measures such as sealing all borders will help to mitigate any negative developments. The Gambian government, has however, been reluctant to toe this line and is unlikely to change this position. As an alternative, it has ordered that all arrivals from Covid-19 hotspots be quarantined upon arrival in the Gambia. However, this still leaves a risk of exposure to the airport officials who process them upon arrival as well as the risk of infected persons coming in from next-door Senegal.

Are Africans immune?
While the virus has ravished regions such as south-east Asia, North America, and western Europe, Africa as a whole appears to have been spared. Researchers have posed a question as to why, but are yet to provide an answer. However, it is possible to logically conclude that it is either Africans are immune to the virus, or the African environment is not suitable for its survival. A third option is that African nations have been so effective at responding to the crisis that, it has been much better contained. However, the available evidence does not support this theory. In Nigeria for example, the index case – an Italian national, had extensive contact with indigenes before being quarantined. That this contact did not develop into any further transmissions certainly cannot be chalked up to superior preparation or execution. In Senegal, the situation was identical.

The first suggestion, also, that Africans are immune to Conid-19, can safely be set aside. A number of Africans have been recorded as contracting the disease, with at least two fatalities so far. At the same time as the Gambia was reeling with the discovery of its first Covid-19 case, news sources in Nigeria reported 5 more confirmed cases, all of whom were, unlike its index case, Nigerians returning from western countries.

Clearly, Africans are not immune to the virus. However, it is notable that despite its arrival on the continent, Covid-19 has not taken off here, as it has in other regions of the world. Examining the remaining hypothesis that the virus is not suited to the African environment, there may be some confirmatory evidence.

Researchers say that Covid-19 is covered in an envelope-like membrane, and that this membrane can not survive in hot weather. When exposed to the heat, it dissolves, and the virus, ensconced within, dies.
While for now, the spread of the virus (or the lack thereof) is some supporting evidence of the potential truth of this theory, it remains untested and cannot be authoritatively relied upon.

Critics of this theory are quick to point out that Covid-19 has spread rapidly in typically hot countries such as Iran. However, the temperature in Iran at this time of the year is relatively cool. At the time of writing, the temperature in Tehran was 15 degrees Celsius, while the temperature in Wuhan where this all began, was 12 degrees Celsius.

Considering other examples, India, much closer to the epicenter of the outbreak has recorded less than 200 cases. While this is officially credited to proactivity in preventive measures, it should be noted that there are striking similarities between India and Africa. One, the average temperature in India is about 27 degrees Celsius at the time of writing. Like Africa, the majority of cases in India involved people who carried the disease into the country from other places.

Final thoughts:
The best case for the Gambia is that the index case turns out to be the only recorded case of Covid-19. The short term economic shocks emanating from this incident will easily be absorbed in the coming months. However, with much more sever shocks to the global economy, a big question mark hangs over Gambia’s remittances this year, which may impact, among other things, the Gambia’s burgeoning e-commerce market.

This article was first published on 18th March 2020, following The Gambia’s first record of the coronavirus

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