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Opinions of Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Columnist: Goldstreet Business

A curfew to curb COVID-19

With countries all around the world scrambling to lift restrictions on the movement of people, it appears that the Government of Ghana has exercised formidable foresight in lifting its own lockdown of this country’s most populated urban centres after just three weeks of imposition.

Until now, a fierce debate has continued to rage as to whether or not government was prudent to lift its lockdown so quickly.

However, barely a fortnight after Ghana took its own decision on the matter, much of the rest of the world is following suit, including some of the worst-hit countries in the world such as the United States and western Europe’s biggest economies.

Intriguingly, these countries are now doing what Ghana has already done under similar circumstances and for much the same core reason – simply put people are tired of the economic strain of not being able to go out and earn a living. Indeed Ghana acted first because the economic strains here are more intense – most people here are in the informal sector and thus live from hand to mouth without the benefit of a safety net.

Added to this, government lacks the financial wherewithal to provide them with a state sponsored cushion. In an election year, which 2020 is in Ghana, leaving the lockdown in place would have amounted to political suicide.

Initially, government kept its options open, standing ready to re-impose a lockdown if the number of confirmed infections rose sharply – which they have. Indeed, the release to the public of the results of a projection which forecast three million infections and 100,000 resultant deaths, is widely regarded as preparation for another lockdown.

However the lifting of lockdowns by countries with far more infections and deaths than Ghana, and with far greater wherewithal to cushion their respective populaces against the dire economic effects on households and businesses, has put paid to any considerations of re-imposing the lockdown in Ghana.

Simply put, a renewed lockdown here would expose government to politically damaging accusations of insensitivity by its opponents, and with general elections on the horizon this could be fatal.

But this is not just about politics; indeed the recent three week lockdown has proved how damaging such restrictions are, to households, businesses, government and the macro-economy as a whole. Even though the preservation of lives through prudent health policy is vital, so is the economic fortunes of the country and its populace.

There is a policy option though; one that is less effective than an actual lockdown from the perspective of public health, but one that is far more efficient from the angle of our individual and collective economic well-being. This is the imposition of a curfew.

A curfew, imposed from evening until the next morning everyday would enable most economic activity to continue, but would restrain social activity that is not directly economically productive, but is a prime channel for further spread of the infection.

Simply put, by imposing a curfew, Ghanaians would be forced to basically go from home to work and then back home again. This would not completely stem the spread of infection – even a lockdown could not do that – but it would significantly reduce it, while allowing people to earn their living.

This is why this newspaper supports – indeed positively recommends – this option.

To be sure there are several wrinkles that would need to be smoothened out. For one, how to ensure that people who engage in productive work during the curfew hours are allowed to continue doing so; and how to ensure that people do not socialize after working hours in the guise of working productively.

However we are confident that with some thought, these issues can be resolved. It is not a perfect solution bukt it is the best compromise available as at now to balance health and economic imperatives.

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