8, March 2020
Over the last two months, the world has been living in fear of another virus that has proven its destructive capacity in China. The Coronavirus, the virus that shares the same DNA with other flu-related viruses, is less virulent if compared to the Ebola virus that tore the West African economy into shreds in 2014, but very destructive and disruptive.
China, the country that first reported the arrival of the virus, is still struggling to contain this virus that is spreading around the world like wildfire. Despite China’s massive and effective healthcare infrastructure, the virus has succeeded to make mincemeat of the world’s second largest economy.
The global travel and hospitality sector is the virus’ number one victim, with many airlines and hotels already reporting huge financial losses. The virus is no respecter of persons and it heads to any country without seeking a visa or buying an air ticket. From China, the virus has made it to Japan, Italy, France, Hong Kong, South Korea, Iran, the United States, Canada, Morocco, and many other countries.
The world is really dealing with its first major pandemic in a century and the World Health Organization has recognized that if urgent measures are not taken, the Coronavirus will become a major health disaster on the hands of many national governments.
Many governments around the world are not waiting for the killer virus to land on their shores before they can start scrambling for a solution. Many governments are already thinking ahead of time and many are already deploying state-of-the-art technology and making policies that will slow down the virus if and when it shows up in their countries.
As usual, Africa is always a major concern. The continent is notorious for its lack of reliable and modern health facilities and this could spell disaster for many people, especially the elderly. Though the continent survived the 2014 Ebola virus attack that killed thousands, there is no telling if the Ebola eradication plan can still work against the Coronavirus that is sending shivers down the spine of many people around the world.
No country is safe. As people continue to travel around the world, the chances of this virus extending its reach are significant. This is exactly what happened in Cameroon, a small Central African country with an unreliable healthcare system, when a Franco-Cameroonian flew into Yaounde, Cameroon’s capital, on February 24, 2020. He made his way to the city and even attended a funeral in a small community some 30 miles from the nation’s capital.
He was later confirmed as the country’s first case on March 4, 2020, and this has struck fear in many Cameroonian minds, especially as the first victim of the virus was not detected until after two weeks of his arrival in the country. Two weeks are long enough for the visitor to share the virus with other members of his family and even with friends.
Social life on the continent is different from what obtains in other parts of the world. The African is a social animal. Hugging and kissing are just normal components of the continent’s exciting social life, but those aspects of life that make life interesting in Africa will surely come back to bite the population in this era of the deadly Coronavirus, if care is not taken.
Cameroon has reported two cases and it has urged its citizens to remain calm. The second victim is the wife of the first victim and there are fears that some of those who got into close contact with the first and second victims might be bearing the virus without knowing. Fear is spreading across the country not just because the country does not have a sophisticated healthcare system, but because the contact tracing methods used in the country might not be effective.
Many of those who came in contact with the first victim might have already carried the virus to their homes and offices and this might trigger a massive health disaster in a country that lacks resources and is caught up in many conflicts that are robbing it of the little resources it could have used to fight this new insidious enemy – the Coronavirus – that respects nobody.
Cameroon’s announcement of the arrival of the Coronavirus comes a few hours after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that it would make available about USD 50 billion through its rapid-disbursing emergency financing facilities for low income and emerging market countries that could potentially seek support. Of this, USD 10 billion will be available at zero interest for the poorest members of the IMF through the Rapid Credit Facility.
Cameroonians do not trust their leaders and they think the government’s announcement of the arrival of the virus on their shores is a gimmick to attract IMF interest-free money. But the Coronavirus is not something that can be hidden. It is like a corpse. You hide it, it will decompose and the smell will rent the air. The Coronavirus is invisible, but it is capable of bringing down an entire city in a few hours. China and Italy have more experience in this regard and they will be very glad to share that experience with anybody who still thinks the Coronavirus is a joke.
An entire economy can be disrupted and millions killed if proper measures are not taken. Cameroonian authorities therefore have an interest to be upfront with their citizens when it comes to the Coronavirus that is already threatening the country’s organization of the CHAN, a continental football jamboree designed for football players plying their trade on the continent.
The IMF is a global body and it understands that the economic and financial impact of the virus’ spread will be felt globally, creating uncertainty and damaging near-term prospects. In this regard, the IMF has reiterated its determination to provide the necessary support to mitigate the impact, especially on the most vulnerable people and countries. IMF member countries have called upon it to use all its available financing instruments to help member countries in need.
But IMF money has never come without conditionalities. The IMF is a well-oiled machine that will never let itself to be used as an ATM by any country. The global body has already indicated that the number one priority in terms of fiscal response is ensuring front-line health-related spending to protect people’s wellbeing, take care of the sick, and slow the spread of the virus. It is also emphasizing that the focus will be on stepping up health-related measures and ensuring that the production of medical supplies is at par with demand.
The IMF will surely channel its money towards the design of macro-financial policy actions that may be required to tackle the supply and demand shocks that may be brought about by the disruptive virus. Those actions should be timely and targeted to the sectors, businesses and households hardest hit by the virus.
The money will not be shared for some government officials in any country to line their pockets. The Coronavirus threat is real. The people and leaders of Cameroon must work together to ensure that their country is rid of this virus that is capable of taking up residence in the country because of the way Cameroonians have lived their lives over the last couple of centuries.
Whether genuine or not, the reported cases should be viewed as alarm bells that should jog Cameroonians out of their legendary indifference even in the face of the worst pandemic. They must understand that unlike HIV/AIDS, the Coronavirus has the potential to kill an entire family if heath advice provided by health professionals across the world is not respected and taken seriously.
By Dr. Joachim Arrey in Canada