African governments ease COVID-19 restrictions and reopen economies

A growing number of African countries have begun to ease COVID-19 related regulatory restrictions. Some countries, such as Kenya, Rwanda, and Senegal resumed international flights in August, while other countries like South Africa and Nigeria are only now opening their borders. For a continent that slipped into recession for the first time in a quarter century due to the pandemic, the reopening is a welcome step toward restoring economic growth across Africa.

This is a significant development considering the swift action that many African governments took in the early days of the pandemic. Many African nations introduced some of the world’s most stringent regulations that placed restrictions on the movement of people domestically and halted international travel from high-risk areas, including Asia, Europe, and the United States. The World Health Organization has praised Africa’s coronavirus response, attributing it to the significant decrease in infection rates over the past few months. Given the relatively low number of infections, a number of government’s across the continent have begun easing COVID-19 related restrictions and re-opening economies. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Africa Centre for Disease Control, the number of daily confirmed cases has been on the decline for about two months, with the continent accounting for just under 5 percent of cases globally and 3.6 percent of deaths, from a population of more than one billion people.

After a strict lockdown period which resulted in gross domestic product contraction of an annualized 51 percent in the second quarter of 2020, South Africa moved from Alert Level 2 to Alert Level 1 of the Risk Adjusted Strategy on midnight of September 20, 2020. This change allowed for, among other things, the re-opening of international borders with some restrictions. As part of the gradual return to regular economic and social activity, government revised regulations relating to gatherings, travel, and curfews for commercial activities. Social, religious, political and other gatherings are permitted under Alert Level 1, as long as the number of people does not exceed 50 percent of the normal capacity of a venue, up to a maximum of 250 people for indoor gatherings and 500 people for outdoor gatherings. Strict health protocols, such as washing or sanitizing hands, social distancing and mask-wearing, remain in place.

The pandemic has devastated the economy of Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, resulting in a 61 percent year-on-year contraction in the second quarter of 2020, with the World Economic Forum projecting that the economy is set for its worst recession in four decades. The fall in global oil prices, the industry that generates 90 percent of Nigeria’s export revenues, has resulted in increased unemployment.  International flights to and from Nigeria resumed on September 5, 2020, following a five month suspension. Hospitality establishments have been allowed to resume operations at 50 percent capacity, while schools and university have also started re-opening.

With Kenya reporting 38,115 positive cases of the coronavirus as of September 27, 2020, the East African country is considering ways to re-open the economy. A highly contested topic is the re-opening of schools, originally scheduled for January 2020. In the meantime, travel restrictions have been eased allowing the tourism sector to resume operations following months of closure.

For further information, please reach out to Covington’s COVID-19 Task Force at, Witney Schneidman at or Mosa Mkhize at

This post can also be found on CovAfrica, the firm’s blog on legal, regulatory, political and economic developments in Africa.