Burkina Faso and Ghana have eased some coronavirus lockdown restrictions this week to test the possibility of a return to a semblance of normality after weeks of shutdowns that have hobbled both economies.
The West African countries have rising numbers of COVID-19 cases and it is unclear yet how bad it will become: Africa’s infections have lagged those in Europe, Asia and the United States but testing levels are low and the virus could wreak havoc in some of the world’s weakest health systems if cases skyrocket.
In Burkina’s capital, Ouagadougou, markets had been closed since March 25. On Monday the government reopened one as a test to see if it could safely do the same with the rest by the end of the month.
Sellers and customers who entered the market this week had to wear a mask, wash their hands and have their temperature taken, said Armand Beouinde, Ouagadougou’s mayor. He said that only two people are allowed inside shops at one time, and that all shops had to carry hand sanitizer.
“We have suffered from staying home for about a month,” shoe store owner Ousmane Zongo, who normally makes up to 250,000 CFA francs ($413) per month from sales. “We kept on spending whereas we were making nothing, so we lost.”
In Ghana, President Nana Akufo-Addo lifted a three-week lockdown in its two main cities, where non-essential businesses reopened. Akufo-Addo said the decision was made based on improved tracing of the disease, and to “protect the economy”.
One of Africa’s fastest growing economies, Ghana last month cut its 2020 GDP growth forecast from 6.8% to 1.5% due to the coronavirus pandemic, a rate that would represent its worst performance in nearly four decades.
“There is no money to feed the family and myself when we stay at home,” said Atsu Nyavorwoyi, who works as a mechanic in the country’s capital Accra.
Some are worried about raising restrictions despite the economic pain.
“You see the number of infections increasing and I think this is the time to put proper measures in place,” said Charles Menyatso, who repairs computers in Accra.
Ghana has over 1,000 cases of COVID-19, the highest in West Africa, and nine deaths. Burkina Faso has 600 cases and 38 have died.