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Opinions of Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Columnist: Nii Otoe Brown

Coronavirus: Lockdown in Ghana can’t be an option now!


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The spread of the Coronavirus has taken the world by surprise. The World Health Organization on 11th March 2020 declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.

Since then the world has known no peace even in the absence of a world war.
The total number of death recorded globally as of 23rd March 2020.

Coronavirus Cases: 343,848
Deaths: 14,923
Recovered 99,078
Source: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/ (10:34GMT)

The Virus which is said to have originated from Wuhan the capital of the Hubei province in China has thrown the world into a state of fear.

Beyond China, the Italian situation is so severe that several health workers have moved in from Cuba and China to save the situation with others lending logistical support.

According to time.com: ... “The number of cases rose by 50% on March 8 alone. Italy also faces an above average mortality rate of 4%”.

The spread of the virus however did not leave out the African continent and the statistics have been succinctly captured by https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

In Ghana, the Ghana Health Service (GHS) has indicated the situation is as follows (as at 23 March 2020 ,20:28 GMT):

Ghana's Situation
Existing 50
Confirmed 52
Recovered 0
Deaths 2

This has generated a debate as to whether the country is at the stage of a lockdown. A former chief of the Ghana Athletics Association (GAA), George Haldane Lutterodt has suggested government must place the country under a two-week lockdown with immediate effect while others led by the executive director of The Bureau of Public Safety Nana Yaw Akwada are calling for an “immediate discriminated lockdown” of Greater Accra and Ashanti Regions for at least 21 days.

I beg to differ with the view of locking down the country in whatever form.

Point is, the above statistics on the Ghana situation together with the measures government has already put in place does not seem to suggest Ghana is a nation heading for doom.

The statistics indicate our numbers are so minimal to warrant a lockdown in any form. Indeed according to the Ghana Health Service, one of the deaths recorded in Ghana can be traced to a pre-existing health complication while there has not been any information on the other death.

According to the GHS: “As of 23 March 2020, 14:00 Hr. a total of 521 suspected cases have been tested for COVID-19 by Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR) and Kumasi Centre for Collaborative Research (KCCR).

Twenty-four (27) of these have been confirmed at the laboratory as COVID-19. Twenty-five of the confirmed cases are receiving treatment in isolation”
(Source: http://www.ghanahealthservice.org/covid19/)

We need also to bear in mind that the recorded cases are generally stable and what is more encouraging is that our local health officials are handling the cases domestically. A relatively refreshing piece of information that is.

Again the number of recorded cases in some countries as at the date of their lock down are:

Country Recorded cases as at lockdown
China 50000
Italy 9000
France 6633
South Africa 402

There is no doubt that the number of recorded cases in Ghana comes nowhere near the figures above as those countries went into lockdown.

This is not to say that we must wait for the situation to get worse then we get into lockdown but the point being made is that already the measures put in place do only look very efficacious but it’s at a relatively cheaper cost(emphasis mine).

France is an example of a country I refer to as having gone into a ‘responsible lockdown’. This is because as expected of them, they have put in place both economic and social measures to mitigate the effect of the epidemic on the citizens both in France and their overseas territories.

For example schools from the basic to the university level has been suspended, bars, restaurants nightclubs, open markets, corner shops etc. Workers are all at home with the exception of essential service providers like security services and health workers.

The economic energy this arrangement is going to sap cannot be over emphasized. It is in view of this, that an amount of €300bn has been approved to mitigate the effect of loss of taxes, utility bills, rents et all plus free public transport for those with attestation to work.

Question is, is Ghana financially positioned for this measure? It is a big NO! This is a country that has passed the physical responsibility bill into an Act to check spending (especially in an election year).

A country that is striving to maintain a sustainable debt to GDP ratio. A country that has had to heavily finance very bold government initiatives like the free SHS as well as the one district one factory policy. A country that is struggling to meet and increase revenue targets. Oil revenues inflows have decreased significantly.

Furthermore, a big challenge that a lockdown will pose is the irony of keeping the economy healthy while businesses are not running. So for example in ‘responsible lockdown countries’ students and workers undertake their different activities from the house via the internet and telecommunication platforms. I did a little math on the cost of telecom and internet services by using France as a case study and I realized while 60gh(€9.99)/month can give you unlimited call plus 50gigabite and free txt messaging as a package the same cannot be said about Ghana. Again internet reliability is far reliable than that of Ghana.

What Ghana can do given her peculiar position

Let me begin by congratulating the health professionals under the leadership of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo for showing leadership in these challenging times. I must confess that anytime I see him address the nation on the epidemic I see seriousness, sincerity, transparency and a President boldly leading the country in an unexpectedly difficult time. So far, the banning of social gatherings, closing down of schools and borders are stepped in the right direction.

Public education has largely gone down to the people. Of course the meeting with the captains of the pharmaceutical industry couldn’t have come at a better time. Looking at Ghana’s statistics on CONVID 19 Supra, I sincerely think at this stage of the fight the following must be seriously pursued.

1. Ghanaians must be encouraged to practice the different simple preventive measures and encourage to eat and engage in activities that will boost their immune systems. (This is why despite the lock down France has allows individuals to jog to stay healthy). Clearly this is the easiest and surest way to fight this menace.

2. The security services must move to secure borders with neighboring countries by ensuring strict adherence to the directive of the president. There must be isolation camps in case of emergencies.

3. Simple Quarantine Camps must be set up in all regions for quick isolation of suspected cases.

4. There must be simple kits to test individuals under a voluntary test program (kits must be made available at hospitals, pharmacies, chip compound, etc and the dedicated lines must be in use.

5. Mass disinfection of public places like markets is a good move.

6. All media houses must allocate slots as part of their social responsibility for educating Ghanaians on all they need to know about the CONVID 19 and how to report a suspected case.

7. This is the time to engage all including chiefs, Religious leaders, opinion leaders, popular showbiz icons, etc to lead the sensitization and help distribute personal hygiene products like hand sanitizers to as many people as possible.

8. There must be special insurance packages for health workers at this stage considering the risk factors.

In conclusion, I want to re-emphasize that a lockdown in whatever form will not only be far fetched but will fatally pierce deeply the heart of the economic gains of Ghana. Indeed the steps put in place by the government are more feasible and cost-effective. At this point of the life of a Ghanaian, we must bring our patriotism and responsible citizenship to bear by practicing good hygiene for the benefit of all.

I will also like to encourage health workers and paramedics to keep up the good works. For it will be said that once again when the whole world was running away from a wicked enemy you stepped forward to fight the enemy even at the expense of your lives. Let me borrow the words of President Akuffo Addo as I finally conclude this write up. "Our survival is in our own hands.”

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