COVID-19 in Africa: Vulnerabilities and Assets

Robert Mattes, Carolyn Logan, E. Gyimah-Boadi, George Ellison

Research output: Book/ReportOther report


Not only did the COVID-19 disease arrive on Africa’s shores (and at its airports) later than in Asia, Europe, and North America (Loembé et al., 2020), but for months the numbers of infections and deaths also appeared to remain relatively low. As of early August, the continent had experienced more than 1 million confirmed cases and 23,000 deaths (Africa CDC, 2020), though these figures were increasing rapidly.

At this point, the causes behind Africa’s comparatively low initial numbers are not completely clear. One reason may be that early and decisive responses on the part of many African governments prevented the virus from gaining an easy foothold (Beech, Rubin, Kurmanaev, & MacLean, 2020; Hirsch, 2020; Levinson, 2020; Moore, 2020; Loembé et al., 2020). Indeed, according to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (2020), 46 African countries took some form of official action – in the form of new legislation or executive orders and decrees – restricting or banning travel and public gatherings, enforcing quarantines, or in some cases imposing full “lockdowns.”

But Africa, somewhat paradoxically, may also have benefited from a range of structural factors, such as the continent’s relatively limited international exposure, its relatively low rates of intra- and inter-state air travel (Marbot, 2020), a generally hot and humid climate, relatively lower levels of population density and urbanization (De Waal, 2020; Marbot, 2020), and its substantially younger populations (Binding, 2020). It may have also profited from cultural factors, such as the fact that older people tend to remain with their families, rather than being institutionalized in retirement homes (Marbot, 2020), though this also has consequences for residential density, or that it has a more collectivist, less individualistic culture, which, according to recent research, may make COVID-19 interventions more effective (Frey, Presidente, & Chen, 2020).
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationAccra, Ghana
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2020

Publication series

NameAfrobarometer Policy Paper


  • Africa
  • COVID-19
  • assets
  • vulnerabilities
  • survey research


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