Benin reported its first COVID-19 case on March 16, 2020. After peaking in June 2020, the total number of active cases and fatalities subsided in the second half of 2020. New cases and deaths related to Covid-19 have seen another sharp increase in the first quarter of 2021, but have since subsided significantly.Benin launched its vaccination campaign on March 29, 2021. However, the vaccination rollout has been slow with only 8000 doses administered by end-April 2021, reflecting significant deployment challenges. Following the initial outbreak of the virus, the authorities have swiftly implemented strong containment and social distancing measures, including the partial lockdown (cordon sanitaire) around ten cities most exposed to the pandemic to isolate the contaminated population and contain the spread of the virus. They have also (i) significantly limited the transit of people across land borders; (ii) restricted the issuance of entry visas to the country; (iii) introduced a systematic and compulsory quarantine of all people coming to Benin by air; (iv) suspended all public gatherings; (v) introduced a ban on the movement of public transportation; and (vi) made wearing face mask in public compulsory. Economic activity was mostly affected during the second quarter of 2020, due to containment and mitigation measures in Benin and the global economic slowdown, while some signs of recovery appeared in June 2020. Agriculture, commerce and trade, transport, and the hospitality industry were among the most affected sectors. Inflation has been on the rise, driven by higher food and transport prices. Import and value chains disruptions, lower travel and tourism receipts in addition to diminished inflow of remittances have resulted in widening of current account deficit. After having soared about 550 points following the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, spreads on Benin’s Eurobond continued to compress and, since January 2021, have fallen below SSA average. The fiscal position has deteriorated as a result of the implementation of the authorities’ COVID-19 response plan (see section on fiscal response below).
In addition to Covid-19 shock, Benin continues to be impacted by the impeded trade with Nigeria. On 20 August 2019, Nigeria decided unilaterally to close the border with some neighboring countries, including Benin. The Nigerian authorities motivated their decision by the need to curb smuggling and spur local agricultural production. Following a 16-month border closure, the Nigerian authorities announced in December 2020 the immediate reopening of Nigerian land border-crossing point with Benin. Nonetheless, traffic remains limited to private vehicles and pedestrians, thus impeding the cross-border trade. Following the meeting of the presidents of two countries in January 2021, a working group has been set up with objective of resuming the land trade by second half of 2021.
Reopening of the economy. The authorities have announced measures to gradually start reopening the economy, with the cordon sanitaire lifted on May 6, 2020. Middle schools, high schools and universities resumed their activities on May 11, 2020. Public transportation, places of worship and bars resumed their activities on June 2, 2020. International flights resumed on July 15th, 2020, accompanied by strict protocols for testing and quarantine for new arrivals. The gradual reopening is subject to continued social distancing guidelines and mandatory use of masks, among other measures.