South African President Cyril Ramaphosa
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is walking a tight on land reform. REUTERS/Ruvan Boshoff/Pool

African leaders are bracing for what could be an economic collapse as COVID-19 sweeps across nations in the region.

As the virus ravages across the globe, Africa is facing a growing crisis with more coronavirus cases being confirmed in the continent. So far, more than half of its 54 countries have imposed restrictions to prevent coronavirus transmissions — from travel bans to curfews and lockdowns.

Due to these restrictions, millions are forced out of jobs. Especially, Africa’s large informal sector, many who live hand-to-mouth.

Ahunna Eziakonwa, United Nations Development Program regional director for Africa, said the continent has not seen “anything like this before.”

“The African labor market is driven by imports and exports and with the lockdown everywhere in the world, it means basically that the economy is frozen in place,” Eziakonwa told The Associated Press.

“And with that, of course, all the jobs are gone.”

The informal sector — street vendors, taxi operators, housekeepers, petty traders and the like — account for a considerable percentage of some countries’ gross domestic product (GDP). In Uganda, this accounts for more than 50% of its GDP.

Some governments have already asked the United Nations and other organizations for help and emergency funding as they face an economic meltdown. If the virus spreads across Africa and such restrictions stretch to weeks or even months, an economic collapse may be inevitable.

“We will see a complete collapse of economies and livelihoods. Livelihoods will be wiped out in a way we have never seen before,” Eziakonwa warned.