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Africa – Covid: Which countries are responding best to the crisis?

By Olivier Marbot

Posted on February 3, 2021 13:10

Firefox_Screenshot_2021-02-03T10-33-13.455Z Covid-19 test at a centre in Kigali, Rwanda, in July 2020 © AP/SIPA
Covid-19 test at a centre in Kigali, Rwanda, in July 2020 © AP/SIPA

The “Covid performance” index published at the end of January by the Lowy Institute – an Australian think tank – flatters the ego of the countries that rank highly, but it also raises many questions.

According to the Lowy Institute, Rwanda, Togo and Tunisia are the African countries that have responded best to Covid, far ahead of South Africa and especially many rich countries.

The criteria used to evaluate the performance of countries in the face of the pandemic (number of cases and deaths – in absolute terms and as a proportion of the population – number of tests and rate of positive tests) seems solid and relevant. However, the ranking includes only 98 countries, 20 of which are African.

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The Lowy Institute experts explain that they have only selected countries that provide complete, credible and verifiable statistics, which excludes countries such as China from their field of investigation. An understandable choice, but one that inevitably limits the scope of the ranking, led by New Zealand (94.4 points out of a maximum of 100), Vietnam (90.8) and Taiwan (86.4).

Rwanda is coping, whereas South Africa is suffering

On the continent, it is Rwanda – ranked sixth – which comes first with a score of 80.8, followed by Togo (72.8) and Tunisia (66.7). Tunisia’s good result may come as a surprise, given that it is currently facing an outbreak of cases and deaths.

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Not to mention its vaccination policy which seemed, at least initially, rather disorganised and late. The fact that the Lowy ranking is based on figures gathered from 9 January onwards no doubt explains this result.

Next in descending order are Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Uganda, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Zimbabwe, the DRC, Madagascar and Ghana, with scores between 60 and 50. Countries that rank below average are Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Namibia, Morocco, Libya and lastly, South Africa, with a score of 25.4 and in 82nd place.

Rigorous measures

Impressive rankings when compared to those obtained by much richer and more powerful countries such as the UK (66th with 37.5 points), France (73rd, 34.9), Russia (76th, 32) and the US (94th, 17.3).

“Many rich countries were quickly overwhelmed when the virus appeared, and the large number of flights back and forth between these countries facilitated its transmission,” explains the Lowy Institute’s report. “By comparison, the authorities in many developing countries had a little more time to implement the necessary measures, most of which did not require significant technical capacity.”

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This is particularly the case in Africa where, experts explain, the pandemic was initially slowed down by introducing strong measures (including lockdowns) before worsening and then stabilising at the end of 2020.

The Lowy Institute’s report also sweeps aside the idea that authoritarian states – “Chinese-style”, as it has often been said – have achieved better results: “While there were differences at the beginning, the curves eventually converged and, on average, authoritarian regimes did not register any lasting advantage in the fight against the virus.”

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