Go early, go hard and keep it simple: how Senegal is staying ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic

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This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Macky Sall, President, Senegal


• Senegal is re-entering a state of emergency to combat the pandemic’s second wave.

• Early action and clear measures were vital during the first.

• The first phase of vaccination will be completed by June this year.

I often remind all the people who work to help me fulfil my duties as president of Senegal that no fatalism can be allowed to take hold in the midst of the current pandemic. I also suggest that the only thing worth keeping in mind is to know how to face such challenges with determination and clarity in order to make sure the country is not left behind due to underdevelopment.

No democratic leader likes to declare a state of emergency. Not only is it a sign of very troubled times, but freedom is fragile and should always be protected. So it is with a heavy heart that I put Senegal back into special measures in recent weeks. I did so reluctantly – but knowing too, without doubt, that I had no choice. This second COVID wave is visibly more contagious and life-threatening than the first.

In harmony with the philosophy of the Emerging Senegal Plan (PSE), which governs our development policies, I advocate the idea of relying first on ourselves, even if the valuable contributions of others, in an open and interdependent world, could supplement our efforts.

The main lesson of our first lockdown for me was go early, go hard and keep it simple. Declaring a state of emergency allows us to impose a curfew – which is critical in the Dakar and Thies regions that constitute the epicentre of the pandemic. At least 90% of new contaminations are there, so we will target our efforts in those areas, as we did first time round.

Back then, we benefited from a rapid and economical COVID test with a 24-hour turnaround for results; the requisitioning of hotels to quarantine victims; and clear communication, specifically directed where most needed, using different platforms for the range of different communities we had to address. For some in our cities, that was television. Others were easier to reach on social media, but the madrasas and churches were vital to reach the wider population, as were some of our more cultured citizens. I am grateful to the artists, singers and other stars who turned to song, or painted murals, making it crystal-clear what was required of our people to stay safe. Washing hands, wearing masks, keeping your distance are simple instructions, so why complicate them? Why mess around, confusing the message, delaying the action and losing momentum?

Senegalese artists have painted murals in the capital, Dakar, to raise awareness about COVID-19
Artists have painted murals in the capital, Dakar, to raise awareness about COVID-19. Image: Delphine Buysse

Rising early makes the road short, as we say in Africa, and moving quickly was critical in our first encounter with this pandemic, as it will be now. Our first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor, who was famous for starting his day before dawn, set a humbling example for all of us who have followed him – we must move fast and take the road very early in our fight against COVID-19. Central to his vision was the idea that we “survey our riches, potentialities and shortcomings” before acting. By that he meant our human qualities, skills and organizational structures as well as our natural resources.

The other major new development in the fight against this second wave is the decision to administer the COVID-19 vaccine in the near future. The strategy is ours to design and implement, but we clearly need our partners and friends in the COVAX initiative led by the World Health Organisation, Gavi Alliance, UNICEF, the EU and others to gain access to safe and effective donor-funded doses of the vaccines. Senegal is among 92 countries qualifying for the Advance Market Commitment funds and that will pay for enough supplies to immunize 20% of the population.

Our vaccination strategy is focused on two stages: The first will include health personnel, the elderly, those with co-morbidities. Stage two will involve the vaccination of an estimated 80% of the population, by the end of 2022. The good news is that this allows us to start vaccinating over the next few weeks, and we are confident of completing that phase by June.

Case numbers in Senegal, according to region
Case numbers in Senegal, according to region. Image: Ministère de la Santé et de l’Action Sociale

When so many have suffered, it gives us no pleasure to be congratulated by the Brookings Institution and others for our relative success. But they did provide a timely reminder of the many things we got right then and need to repeat now. This positioned us first in Africa and second in the world, behind New Zealand. This ranking insisted on the efficiency and transparency in the management of the pandemic, the rapidity of the tests, the requisitioning of hotels for quarantining, the early and transparent communication on coronavirus infection cases; in short, on the actions that show the promptness and efficiency with which Senegal has managed the first COVID-19 wave.

Judd Devermont at the Center for Strategic Studies summed it up as “following science, acting quickly, working on the communication side of the equation and then thinking about innovation”. I take those words as a compliment, but our work is yet not done and is far from over. coronavirus, health, COVID19, pandemic

What is the World Economic Forum doing to manage emerging risks from COVID-19?

The first global pandemic in more than 100 years, COVID-19 has spread throughout the world at an unprecedented speed. At the time of writing, 4.5 million cases have been confirmed and more than 300,000 people have died due to the virus.

As countries seek to recover, some of the more long-term economic, business, environmental, societal and technological challenges and opportunities are just beginning to become visible.

To help all stakeholders – communities, governments, businesses and individuals understand the emerging risks and follow-on effects generated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Marsh and McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group, has launched its COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications – a companion for decision-makers, building on the Forum’s annual Global Risks Report.

The report reveals that the economic impact of COVID-19 is dominating companies’ risks perceptions.

Companies are invited to join the Forum’s work to help manage the identified emerging risks of COVID-19 across industries to shape a better future. Read the full COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications report here, and our impact story with further information.

In the first wave, my call for individual and collective responsibility, for active citizenship and patriotism, had a very positive response. With the declaration of the state of emergency, I was able to undertake actions that normally fall within the scope of the law, in order to meet the budgetary, economic, social, health and security imperatives of the fight against COVID-19. As I said in one of my speeches to the nation: “This is a serious time.” And that is why we have been working with determination, while remaining open to any initiative ready to support these efforts, in the name of solidarity among nations. The virus leaves us no other choice.

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