Africa has recorded 1 million confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, more than half in South Africa, and 21,000 have lost their lives with the pandemic yet to peak on the continent, according to figures released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) Africa Region.
While the pandemic has not overly constrained existing oil and gas production, incremental developments have been hit and exploration initiatives postponed as restrictions on movement were imposed.
Measures to prevent viral spread have varied across the continent with aspiring oil producer Uganda imposing the most draconian of lockdowns while neighbouring Tanzania, which hosts several gas field operations, did almost nothing.
The collapse in oil prices combined with the Covid-19 shock worsened the fiscal and external balances of all sub-Saharan African oil producers, but most should be able to close their financing gap with the support of official creditors, according to Fitch Ratings.
“Sub-Saharan African oil producers entered 2020 with high debt and limited fiscal space and will likely post fiscal deficits between 4% and 6% of gross domestic product (GDP), assuming lower oil prices, lower production due to maturing oil fields and low investment.”
For established oil producers Angola and Congo-Brazzaville, Fitch said that even with “a moderate impact of measures taken to stem the Covid-19 pandemic, government debt will likely soar from already high levels to exceed 115% of GDP, placing liquidity under stress and threatening timely debt repayment”.
Officially, Africa is one of the regions least affected by the Covid-19, second only to Oceania, with some 670,000 people reported to have recovered from the virus, but WHO experts warn failing healthcare systems and poor screening capabilities mask the true picture.
The Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention calculates that six countries account for 80% of new cases, including South Africa, Morocco, Algeria, Kenya, Ghana and Ethiopia.
The worst affected countries per head of population are Djibouti, Sao Tome & Principe, Cape Verde and Gabon while the figures in other countries in sub Saharan Africa like Liberia, Niger, Chad, Angola and Mali indicate higher than global average fatalities among reported cases.
Also worrying is the 18% increase in Covid 19 cases recorded in the West and Central Africa regions in the last two weeks, just as the rainy season begins to impede implementation by healthcare workers of preventive measures to contain the virus, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
Regional figures indicating “a stagnation of active cases” and low death tolls are unreliable because of low levels of testing amid dwindling resources and security constraints, according to the UNHCR.
Africa continues on a slow burn as the virus spreads beyond capital cities into new areas like internally displaced persons camps and detention facilities, said International Committee of the Red Cross Regional Director Patrick Youssef.
African upstream oil and gas operations have been affected, especially exploration, due to restrictions on crew change and skeletal staffing solutions which are chiefly designed to ensure production continues, even at reduced levels.
The ongoing disruption to global supply chains has also impacted the ability of oil companies to keep development projects on track.
Africa’s economies are now opening up with international flights having resumed this month in Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Rwanda, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Niger and Chad with Nigeria set to follow “within weeks, not months” according to Nigerian Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika.
Uganda plans to re-open Entebbe International Airport “but will wait for scientists to assess the standard operating procedures presented by the Ugandan Civil Aviation Authority before deciding”, Aviation Ministry Permanent Secretary Diane Atwine announced this week.