This article is a collaborative effort by Kartik Jayaram, Kevin Leiby, Acha Leke, Amandla Ooko-Ombaka, and Ying Sunny Sun, representing views from across the McKinsey Africa Practice.
COVID-19 poses a grave threat to lives across Africa, with the World Health Organization (WHO) estimating that the continent could see up to 190,000 deaths over the next year if the pandemic is not controlled.1 In the face of this challenge, governments have acted fast, both to strengthen the capacity of health systems and to contain the spread of the virus: as of May 19, about half of Africa’s population lives in countries imposing some type of lockdown. But despite accelerating case numbers in many countries (Exhibit 1) and recent reports of a worsening health crisis in hotspots on the continent, some governments have started to ease restrictions with caution as economic pain becomes more acute for households.2
The economic outlook is also bleak. Globally, while some countries are past their peak rate of infections, concerns about virus resurgence continue to raise uncertainty. In a recent McKinsey survey of global executives, 40 percent anticipated
a muted economic recovery. A prolonged global slowdown, combined with continued lockdowns in Africa, could plunge the continent into its first economic recession in 25 years while threatening the jobs or incomes of 150 million Africans—one- third of the entire workforce.3
African countries need to find smart approaches to reopen economies in a calibrated way that brings key industries back into operation while ensuring safe ways of working. The COVID-19 crisis will likely persist for some time, and there is serious risk of a resurgence in infections. Accordingly, governments will need to build the capacity to alternate between reopening and restricting economies on a granular, local level— akin to developing and flexing a muscle.4 In the first part of this article we shine a spotlight on these approaches to smart reopening, suggesting pathways that countries can adopt to save lives and safeguard livelihoods. Governments will need to build the capacity to alternate between reopening and restricting economies on a granular, local level—akin to developing and flexing a muscle