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Opinions of Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Columnist: Awotunde Awosika

A hungry economy cannot hold lockdown for long

File photo File photo

After the President’s address to the nation on 19th April, 2020, the country seems divided into two factions; those who support the lifting of the lockdown and those who do not support that decision. Quite sticky situation but let me put this in some perspective.

Accra Metropolis has about 2.3 million people, the number increases to 4.3 people during the day. The additional 2 million is as a result of movement from the peri-urban areas into the city for business. (The Figures from the Mayor of Accra, on Good Evening Ghana, Metro TV, 17th April, 2020).

Giving the cosmopolitan and business nature of Kumasi, it is likely to exhibit same or similar characteristics, so we may be talking about close to 9 million people and economic activities affected by the lockdown or the partial lockdown. That is huge economic effect.

Due to the lockdown, the movement of goods to and fro these areas have been largely restricted, because the goods move with people. Prices are going up exponentially and unreasonably. Implication is that those with goods already in the system will start hoarding, it is just a matter of time and we are going to have “kalabule” era in our hands again; where your small money cannot afford things and where you can afford too, the goods may not be available to buy. Those in rural areas will start going hungry because their goods are not moving. In a country where estimated 80% of employment is in the informal economy, you can imagine the effect on those at lower level of the pyramid.

The World Bank as at 12 April had cautioned African countries not to copy blindly the covid-19 measures from the developed economies. If countries like Germany, who have enough buffer stock to cater for their people are locking down, you, hungry Ama Ghana too says you’re locking down.

Meanwhile, there are other countries that are also doing well without lockdowns. The effect of lockdown on those at lower part of the pyramid is dire and should the President continue on the path of lockdown for long, the hardship will be unbearable and there is likelihood of civil disobedience. The dissenting voices of the lifting of lockdown are largely those who do not feel the impact or full impact of the lockdown.

These are people who still earn salaries despite the lockdown, those who have private cars and so are able to move around quite freely, relative to those without such ‘luxury, those whose jobs are allowed to operate despite lockdown.

Moreover, the government keeps announcing one freebies to another in his addresses in other to mitigate the effect of covid-19 and provide some respite to citizens. So expectations heighten anytime the President is scheduled to address the nation, the President cannot simply sustain this. Also the reliefs provided by government during the period of lockdown constitutes a lot of drain, the government cannot hold its head above water with this for long.

It is on this note that I support the lifting of the lockdown, subject to strict enforcement of regulations on the ground. Of course, the President may not have cited economics as reason for lifting the lockdown because of its own lofty utterance of being able to resurrect dead economy, which was a plagiarized statement anyway. In situations such as this, the reasons will be weighed to know which reason should be brought into public knowledge and which one is to be kept under lock and key.

There maybe other political benefits that the lifting of lockdown may accrue to government and the ruling party. Like the holding of the parliamentary primaries of the ruling party, the continuation of the National Identification registration, and the Electoral Commission’s agenda of new voter registration. But these political reasons or benefits may not be immediate, because the social distancing and ban on public gathering is still in force. Any attempt to carry out the aforementioned immediately will be a vindication of the opposition and also earn public outcry.

Like earlier said, we can look at countries that have not locked down but managing their Covid-19 situation well and take important lessons from them, as a developing country who can’t afford lockdown for long. However, in lifting the lockdown, the government would have to deploy security personnel to strictly enforce the social distancing and ban on public gathering directives. The state will have to ensure decongestion of market centers across the country.

Also, we need to ensure strict adherence to the number of passengers per vehicle as prescribed by the President. Currently, number of passengers per vehicle is reduced, which means the profit made by drivers has been reduced. The drivers in other not to be at the losing end have also increased the transport to make up for the profit they would have lost, thereby shifting the burden on passengers. So government will have to consider reducing fuel prices to give citizens some respite. Thus, government needs to reduce some tax component on fuel.

It is good that government is prescribing use of nose mask. In implementing this, we can take relevant lessons from Czech Republic where it is mandatory for anyone who goes public space to wear nose mask. Though the nose mask is not a panacea, it has proven to mitigate the chances of getting infected, even home made nose masks have relatively proven better than not wearing any mask at all.

With these, a hopeful nation may rise beyond the Covid-19 situation, with the help of God.