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New RESEP working paper assesses SA’s approach to COVID-19 compared with the rest of the world


Using a dataset known as the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker (OxCGRT), RESEP’s Martin Gustafsson assesses the South African response to COVID-19 relative to that of 139 other nations. While Gustafsson notes that cross-country comparisons must be interpreted carefully, he believes they are invaluable to decision-makers. South Africa’s reaction time—from reporting its first case of COVID-19 to enforcing workplace restrictions—was on par with most other countries. Similarly,  both the absolute number of deaths and the trajectory of COVID-19 deaths in South Africa are not atypical.


However, Gustafsson’s findings reveal that while South Africa’s response to the pandemic was in some cases fairly typical of global trends—for example restricting travel, closing schools and workplaces, as well as bringing public transport to a halt—the overall response deviates markedly in the stringency with which these and other measures have been implemented. In fact, according to the most recently available data, South Africa is one of only 30 nations to reach what is regarded as the maximum level of stringency.


In a comparison of World Bank Indicators, Gustafsson further finds that developing countries are overly represented in these more stringent groups. The paper argues that the high degree of stringency is likely the result of developing countries having fewer resources and, therefore, being more at risk of being overwhelmed by the pandemic. However, even relative to countries that are considered economically similar, South Africa’s response can still be considered as highly stringent; for example, restrictions related to workplace access measure up to twice as restrictive compared to economically similar countries.


The full working paper is available as a downloadable PDF here.