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AU looking to Digital Technology to save Africa Free Trade Area

NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 15 – The Africa Union is betting on top digital solutions among them PanaBios – a bio-surveillance and bio-screening suite -, to ensure continuity of business in the region, in the advent of the coronavirus pandemic.

The technology maps COVID-19 hotspots throughout the continent and builds risk models that create a base for standardized protocols to prevent transmission of the disease.

Using similar risk models tied to testing across the continent, PanaBIOS makes it possible to verify the health status of international travelers across borders, at a time when air travel has resumed.

The technology will see travelers use test results from one country to satisfy port clearance requirements in another country through their personal PanaBios app, which is already available on the PanaBIOS website.

The technology will thus simultaneously help ease port congestion (by obviating the need for testing on arrival) and prevent importation of new Covid-19 cases at ports of entry.

Furthermore, it provides the means to track vaccine administration and also adverse reactions, in a bid for transparency and confidence rebuilding in the wake of growing paranoia about vaccines. This will however only be important when vaccines for Covid-19 are widely available.

Of more immediate use is the potential of the platform’s machine learning algorithms to serve as rapid screening measures to help with school reopening, workplace safety and cross-border travel through the meshing of testing-related data and geolocation intelligence.

The move comes as African countries are getting ready to reopen their borders and economies. The momentum building behind reopening is causing a surge of alarm amongst public health experts who fear a harsher and more devastating “second wave” of the disease if smart digital measures are not implemented to replace the physical restrictions being abandoned.

Commissioner for Trade and Industry Albert Muchanga says the move towards digital solutions for the 55- member state intergovernmental union is critical even as the Union commits to meet the Africa Continental Free Trade Area operationalization deadline of January 1, 2021.

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“This will help to ensure that African countries are able to meet the new date for the start of trading under the AfCFTA of 1st January 2021, as set by Africa Heads of State and Governments who are strongly committed to getting the AfCFTA agenda back on track after the postponement of the start of trading initially set for July 1, 2020,” he added.

PanaBios has been piloted in Ghana for a range of the measures it is supposed to support trans-continentally. In a fascinating recent use case, the Ghanaian electoral authorities deployed it to keep electoral registration activities on track despite fears of COVID-19 among the country’s medical personnel. Registration centres were eventually digitally decongested, helping blunt some of anxiety in the buildup to the process. Ghana’s constitution does not offer a mechanism for the postponement of elections during a pandemic.

Among other digital solutions the AU is promoting to the member states to keep integration and business continuity across the continent on track notwithstanding the pandemic are a “virtual diplomacy platform”, to address member states’ concerns about virtual negotiations, and an “AfCFTA Number” concept to boost e-Trade among SMEs across the continent and speed up e-commerce interoperability.

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