The COVID-19 lesson for African trade

The all-out crisis generated by the disease (or the fear of catching it) at Covid-19, (SARS-CoV-2; Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2), is now imposed everywhere, in the discussions of health professionals, politicians, economists and the general public when the latter can reunite. It is true that such meetings are becoming more and more exceptional in many countries of the planet because of confinements decided by the public authorities or else as individual initiatives to protect themselves against the spread of the virus.

Like other African countries, Morocco is also affected.

Now, the use of containment to fight against viral contamination is a recurrent attitude. While I was working (forty years ago) as an Assistant at the Institute of Experimental Pharmacology at the University of Lausanne, a former experienced practitioner, Dr Hans Salomon (God have his soul), reminded us each year to the approach of winter that  “catching a cold can last a few days if you caulk at home. But if you bombard him with drugs, he can settle down. “

Moreover, the warning signs (first symptoms) of Covid-19 largely overlap with those of a common cold in terms of sneezing, headache, fever, cough etc. It is therefore difficult, from the signs at this preliminary stage, to decide on the exact viral nature of the incubating disease and, therefore, the possible severity of its impact on the health of the person affected or the degree of its transmissibility to other people around you. Under these conditions, the authorities’ encouragement for individual / family containment derives from the fact that it is the act which presents the best “Benefit / Risk” ratio for the fight against the epidemic (pandemic). Because if, as is often the case, the infected individual (positive for the test), but in good health, takes the upper hand over the virus, he comes out of confinement by being immune which is good for him and for the community. But in the event that, on a small number (confined family), one of the (fragile) people grabs the Covid-19 and develops more alarming signs, there is always the possibility of transporting it to an appropriate care center (hospital, clinic etc.).

In this scenario of confinement in time, the advantage (if one can say) is that the risk of congestion in healthcare centers is remote, as shown by the observations in China where this type of confinement has been implemented early enough. Morocco has also opted for this early containment solution.

Conversely, letting the virus circulate without restriction among the population (or intervening with delay), counting on a massive and rapid (hypothetical) immunization of individuals, inevitably produces a high number of individuals in respiratory distress in a time interval reduced with the inevitable consequence of causing a bottleneck in the reception capacities of health centers, following the example of what happened in Italy.

That said, the Covid-19 crisis turned the world upside down far beyond the purely health aspect of the pandemic by burdening, in particular, the economic and industrial activities of many concerned countries by severely affecting transport and tourism.

For example, for considerations related to confinements imposed by the authorities, or else as individual or collective choices which stem from fear of the virus, the logistics activities of the affected European countries have been disorderly everywhere. Consequently, the supplies which depend on it have been negatively impacted particularly with regard to the distribution of agrifood and healthcare products. And this has been compounded by the behavior of speculators on the prowl to take advantage of these types of circumstances and other “fear shopping”. The remedy for this type of disturbance lies in the degree of coordination and firmness of the crisis management organizations in the affected country. The case of Morocco is interesting in that the supply of foodstuffs continues during this crisis, so to speak normally, and the examples of “purchases of panic fear” have been very isolated.

In our region, the case is rare enough to be highlighted when Europe currently seems to be doing worse than us Africans. Thus, the European single market on which Mr. Michel Barnier, EU chief negotiator on Brexit, pontificated in his interview at the end of February at Der Spiegel, declaring: “The single market is …the most important shared asset of the 27 EU member states… is the main reason Donald Trump respects us ”  has shown its limits in recent times.

In short, yesterday’s asset (single market) has turned into an obstacle to the EU’s management of this crisis. The rule applied today in Europe seems to be that of “every country for itself”.

Well, now according to the information available, the common market was first designed and implemented to make European countries complementary to each other in terms of the manufacture and movement of goods. But, as this health crisis has shown, each country would like to keep the healthcare equipment for itself and its own citizens first, which has exposed the EU slogan which promotes the concept of a European citizen with same rights and duties in any European country. Of course, in a time of exceptional constraint, as is the case with this Covid-19 crisis, people’s reactions may be below expectations. However, those responsible are in principle chosen to respond quickly and well in these circumstances.

In this regard, it is us in Morocco and elsewhere in Africa who are now giving Europeans the example of measured responses and the absence of panic over purchases of toilet paper and the like. It is our way as Africans to return courtesy to our neighbors in the north of the Mediterranean for having colonized us for centuries to “civilize” us.

As a corollary, by temporarily interrupting inter-country travel, this crisis puts us in Africa to the test of finding solutions to the crisis on our own. In Morocco, and I suppose elsewhere in Africa as well, our authorities have just made it clear that they no longer need a tutor to manage a crisis that strikes them, even a pandemic, and come out of it probably more serene.

This spirit of united work and discipline that characterizes our African countries during this Covid-19 crisis must now be applied to other African industrial and commercial sectors to show that Africa has all the assets to take charge completely and choose henceforth only the best bidder to do business with.

It should not be long.