By David Abraham

On 17th March, President Barrow (of The Gambia) announced a closure of schools, marketplaces and other open gatherings for a 21-day period, in response to the global pandemic, Covid-19. Subsequently, the minister of health appeared on national television to announce that the country has recorded its first case of the novel coronavirus.
The entrance of Covid-19 is certain to have an impact on nearly all critical areas of Gambian life, particularly the economy. This article explores how.

What is Covid-19?
Covid-19 is a strain of coronavirus that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, capital of its Hubei province, sometime around late November to early December. A coronavirus is an influenza-like virus that makes the cross specie jump from animal to human. For the most part, these viruses are benign and do not cause any serious health complications.
However, there have been occasionally deadly coronavirus outbreaks in the past. These included the 2002 outbreak of the deadly SARS and MERS in 2012 and 2018, affecting China and the Middle East respectively.

Is Covid-19 fatal?
No. Covid-19 has a 3% kill rate globally. However, because of how rapidly and widely it has spread so far, this has meant that a high number of people are dying, even though the ratio of dead to infected remains relatively low.

Symptoms of Covid-19
For most people, Covid-19 will lead to symptoms such as a fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. While these are also fairly common symptoms of other conditions, when all three are present, sufferers must seek medical attention urgently. In the Gambia, the number to call is 1025.
Not all people who contract Covid-19 will show any symptoms, however, despite being able to transmit it. This makes testing mandatory for anyone who has been in close contact with a person who has the virus.

How does Covid-19 spread?
Covid-19 is spread when droplets of the bodily fluids of an infected person come into contact with the mucous membranes of another person. Those at the greatest risk of infection are close contacts of infected people, such as their spouses or primary care-givers. The primary route of infection is droplet to hand to mucous membrane; however, there is some debate as to whether Covid-19 is effectively airborne.

Several reports claim that Chinese researchers have discovered that Covid-10 can remain alive and active in the air for up to three hours, with an effective range of up to five meters. If this is true, the virus is certainly airborne. However, these Chinese-led studies have been questioned by other experts, and have not yet been peer-reviewed. The majority of researchers claim that the virus is not airborne.

Global impact of Covid-19
Covid-19 is severely disrupting globally economies and changing the way business is getting done. Amid the disruption to global trade, and the crashing of stock markets, one interesting trend is the increased push for workers around the globe to work from home wherever possible. While this is generally being used as a temporary measure to prevent or limit transmission of the virus, it could be seen as a pilot test for a remote workplace in the future. Aside from the obvious convenience that remote work poses for workers, it also has the potential to reduce carbon emissions by reducing the volume of vehicular traffic.
Already, studies are showing that the global carbon footprint is reducing significantly as a likely effect of Covid-19. This effect is likely not solely due to the effects of increased remote work. Rather, a greater contributor might be reduced air traffic as more and more countries seal their borders.
While the environment has made gains thanks to Covid-19, the global economy is staggering. Consumer behavior is generally predictable, and predictably, spending on consumer goods such as eating out, shopping, etc have crashed by up to 70% in the United States.

Covid-19 in The Gambia
With last night’s ministry of health announcement, there is likely to be an identical effect in the Gambian economy. Of concern to the Central Bank of the Gambia, which controls the Gambia’s monetary policy, there are the twin risks of short run inflation and/or scarcity of food items such as rice. As with most economic crises, the poor are likely to be hit the hardest.
Also, open market trading has been suspended with less than 24 hours notice to the general public, which means market sellers will be effectively unemployed or severely underemployed for the next three weeks. As many of these sellers earn their living from hand to mouth, there is a real risk of a humanitarian crisis developing.

Which businesses will be most affected?
While the effects of the disruption will likely ripple through the entire economy, slowing the velocity of money, and threatening a recession, specific sectors are likely to be harder hit than others:

1. Hotels
With global travel grinding to a halt, the tourism industry and its allied services providers could be the hardest hit. The good news is that the industry is currently in its off-season phase; however, with no telling how long Europe will take to recover, hoteliers and other tourism industry operators will face the prospect of a lean tourist inflow. Following on the back of the Thomas Cook fiasco, the threat to this industry is quite high.

2. Travel agencies
With governments discouraging travel, and the prospect of Covid-19 literally hanging in the air, few people are going to want to travel at this time. Furthermore, two of the biggest operators, Brussels Airlines and Air Maroc have suspended all or some portion of their operations involving travel from West Africa to Europe. This foretells a significant loss of income for most travel agencies, and it would not be surprising to see a few fold up or lay off some staff in the coming months.

3. Restaurants
While restaurants are also heavily dependent on the tourist-induced boom in the October to February period, the loss of this traffic is easily offset by year-round local patronage. With the outbreak of Covid-19, however, less people are likely to eat out or even go out at all, if they can avoid it.

This article was first published on 18th March 2020, following The Gambia’s first record of the coronavirus

To be continued

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