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The Sobering Impact of COVID-19 on African Trade

Africa may be two to three weeks away from the height of a coronavirus outbreak, but its impact is already wreaking havoc on the production and movement of goods and raw materials in, out and around the continent. To limit the spread of the virus and ease the burden on already fragile health-care systems, governments have acted swiftly on restrictions, with 31 of the region’s 54 countries imposing full border closures, according to the Addis Ababa-based African Centres for Disease Control. The precaution has made it difficult for key exports that countries rely on to generate income to reach their destinations. More than 51% of Africa’s exports are bound for countries that are highly affected by the virus, with fuels — which comprise 7.4% of continent-wide gross domestic product — topping the list, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). With economic activity almost at a standstill, around half of the jobs in all of Africa are at risk and 48% fewer people will be lifted out of poverty, UNECA said. Many businesses and informal traders may not survive the restrictions that are already weighing on trade.