/Cyril Ramaphosa | Coronavirus lessons: This virus does not respect borders

Cyril Ramaphosa | Coronavirus lessons: This virus does not respect borders

2020-04-06 10:52

One thing we have learnt
about the coronavirus over the last three months is that it does not respect
borders, President Cyril Ramaphosa writes in his weekly newsletter.


Dear
fellow South Africans,

One
thing we have learnt about the coronavirus over the last three months is that
it does not respect borders. It has spread across Asia, Europe, North, Central
and South America and Africa.

Distinctions
of wealth, poverty, nationality, race and class have been rendered meaningless
as infections grow in developed and developing countries alike.

The
coronavirus pandemic has served as a stark reminder that in our interconnected
world, no country and no nation exists for and of itself. It has affirmed once
again that realising a continent and a world free of hunger, want and disease
requires the collective effort of all.

South
Africa is not the only African country battling to contain the spread of the
worst global public health emergency in a century. To date there have been over
7 800 confirmed cases in nearly 50 African countries.

A
number of African countries have embarked on similar measures to those we have
adopted here, such as border closures, nationwide lockdowns and the roll-out of
mass screening and testing programmes.

Now,
African countries are working together. Africa is speaking with one voice and
acting in unison.

Last
Friday, I convened a teleconference of the African Union Bureau, which consists
of the leaders of Egypt, Mali, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as
well as the Chairperson of the AU Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat. Other
participants in the call included the leaders of Rwanda, Ethiopia, Senegal and
Zimbabwe. We received presentations from WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom
Ghebreyesus and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Director Dr John Nkengasong, who provided an update on the state of the
pandemic in Africa and across the world.

What
they told us was extremely concerning. It confirmed the need to act swiftly and
to undertake extraordinary measures.

READ | Cyril Ramaphosa | Coronavirus crisis puts SA to the test

There
is a common appreciation that this virus, if not contained, could present a
very real and serious setback to all our countries as we strive to eradicate
poverty, inequality and underdevelopment in already constrained circumstances.

We
agreed to establish regional coronavirus task forces in each of Africa’s five
regions: Southern Africa, East Africa, West Africa, Central Africa and Northern
Africa. They will oversee screening, detection and diagnosis; infection
prevention and control; clinical management of infected persons; and
communication and community engagement.

While
Africa has weak health systems and millions of people live in conditions of
poverty, several countries across Africa have wide-ranging and extensive
experience in managing infectious disease outbreaks and epidemics. The task
forces will put this experience to good effect as we confront the current
health emergency.

However,
Africa is facing a severe shortage of coronavirus test kits, medicines, face
masks and other personal protection equipment. We are therefore working with
the WHO, Africa CDC and various world leaders to mobilise international support
for Africa, to enable the flow of vital supplies into the continent and to
significantly increase local production in African countries.

We
have established an African Union COVID-19 Response Fund, to which AU Bureau
members have already committed $12.5 million. Funding to the Africa CDC, which
is driving the continental health response, will be increased, with an
additional $4.5 million already committed.

Africa
cannot do this alone. During the virtual summit of G20 leaders late last month,
I raised the need for financial and logistical support for Africa’s response.
Given the substantial toll this pandemic is already taking on African
economies, the assistance that will be needed could run into billions of
dollars.

A
number of measures have been proposed by the AU Bureau, including a comprehensive
stimulus package for Africa. This could include debt relief in the form of
interest payment waivers and deferred payments. This would free up much-needed
financial resources now that national budgets are being reprioritised to
support the coronavirus response.

This
is really a time when not just the G20 countries but other international
partners and financial institutions need to practically demonstrate their
commitment to supporting developing economies in Africa and around the world.

READ | Cyril Ramaphosa | A lesson from Wuhan repatriates: lockdown works

In
the last week, I have had useful discussions with a number of world leaders
including the UN Secretary-General, EU Commission President and the leaders of
France, Russia and Cuba. As South Africa, we continue to receive practical
support from countries like the United States, China, Cuba and Russia.

Even
as these countries struggle to contain the pandemic themselves, they are
willing to support South Africa’s and Africa’s response. In uniting behind this
global health emergency, as African countries we have shown once again our
ability to transcend political and other differences in pursuit of a common
objective. We should seize this moment to deepen collaboration across other
areas, such as development or trade.

This
global pandemic has exposed the fragility of inward-looking and insular
political, economic and social systems. It is leading some to call for ‘a new
moral economy’ that has people and their welfare at its centre.

It
has opened up space for critical action around social spending and equitable
access to health care. It is challenging widely held preconceptions about the
abilities of developing countries to respond to national emergencies.

In
both their respective national responses and the continental effort, African
countries can hold their own.

In
collaboration with the WHO our pandemic preparedness plans have been solid. In
areas where constraints exist, there has been demonstrated commitment to extend
support and capacity to those countries in need.

Our
Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention is world-class. As are our
health professionals, scientists and epidemiologists. With the necessary
international support, we can bolster health infrastructure and health systems
on the continent. At the same time, African countries will help each other.

If
we continue in this positive vein, Africa will truly demonstrate it is more
than capable of resolving it challenges. Through deeper collaboration, we will
turn the tide against this virus, region by region, country by country.

With
best wishes,

President Cyril Ramaphosa

Original Source