The World Bank has advised African governments to keep their trade borders open for business despite the coronavirus outbreak in order to ensure the free flow of medical supplies, food and other essentials which will aid in the fight against the pandemic.

According to the Bretton Woods Institution, as of the end of March this year, 31 countries in the region had closed their borders. Meanwhile, small-scale cross-border trade contributes to the livelihood of about 43 percent of the region’s population, predominantly the poor and women; and such trading activities are also dominated by agricultural and livestock products – essential to maintaining food security.

Hence, its advise to governments on the continent to keep borders open despite border closure gaining international approval: “Borders need to be kept open as much as possible for trade while being consistent with a strategy of containment, and in line with the multilateral provisions of transit. Although it is deemed necessary to contain the spread of the virus, closed borders make it difficult for medical supplies and other necessities of life to reach people,” the World Bank said in its Africa’s Pulse report (April 2020).

It further warned that export restrictions will raise the price and limit the supply of COVID-19-related goods and food to critically affected areas or hotspots.

“Experience from previous crises shows that imposing export restrictions on medical and food products limits their access particularly to the poorest, who will be adversely affected the most. Export restrictions adopted by African and other countries during the crisis affect not only the costs and availability of COVID-related medical supplies, but also necessities, mainly food.

African countries depend heavily on imports of medical supplies, with 94 percent of pharmaceuticals in the region imported from outside the region. Export bans within the region prevent the continental supply from being allocated to where it is needed the most. Within the region, export bans on food lower domestic prices, which reduces the incentive to grow food crops in the next season,” the bank said.