The Covid-19 pandemic has hit Cameroon more than any country in sub-Saharan Africa apart from South Africa, leaving the country contemplating how best to control the spread of the virus in a way that minimizes impact on its economy.
Missteps at the start didn’t help the country’s cause, as the government ignored early calls to close its borders. However, rising figures forced the government’s hand, but domestic economic factors temper its reaction.
Over half of the country’s labor force is employed in agriculture, with 17 percent in services and 13 percent in industry. Farmers rely on open markets and transportation to carry their goods to urban areas for sale and export. Adding to that, daily wage workers and essential services, and it becomes tricky to mandate lockdowns as many developed countries have done. In towns like Yaoundé and Douala, where social distancing is being enforced and open hours have been restricted, transporters and services have seen over 30 percent drop in revenue.
Commuters are already paying higher as fuel prices have stayed the same, forcing some transporters to break social distancing rules to break even. Restaurants and bars are feeling the pinch. They have to close early in certain parts of the country or not open at all. Some have responded by locking their doors and serving customers inside. The government’s decree for everyone to wear facemasks has brought business for designers and tailors, with locally made and trendy masks showing up all over the place. However, there’s little regulation on these products meeting standards for disease prevention.
Cameroon can’t afford a halt to economic activities. Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute signaled this when he released measures to fight the pandemic that won’t stretch businesses. In the absence of widespread testing, the government would have to be creative in selecting which services operate, the necessary logistics and personnel to provide essential services, and how to prop up the economy if it needs a stimulus.
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