The size, nature and significance of the informal sector in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) have important implications for how countries are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as how policymakers can manage the ensuing socio-economic shocks. This policy brief discusses how informality complicates the implementation of COVID-19 containment measures. It addresses the question of how policymakers in SSA can effectively fight the pandemic in the context of high informality in a way that minimises the negative economic impact, as well as how they can appropriately support the informal sector through the negative economic shock.
The brief emphasises policy recommendations to avoid blanket lockdowns; tailor lockdowns to accommodate the nature of the informal sector; and minimise the use (or duration) of tailored lockdowns due to their impacts on the livelihoods of informal workers. To save lives and safeguard livelihoods in the context of high informality, the brief calls for the prioritisation of strategies that enhance sharp behavioural changes at the individual level and promote strong personal responsibility for compliance to the protocols for distancing, hygiene and the use of face masks. Tailored support for the informal sector can be provided through informal business associations; reinforced microfinance institutions; and temporary utility subsidies (electricity, water, and local government rents).