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Opinions of Friday, 10 April 2020

Columnist: E. Eguakun

Coronavirus: The president's responsibilities vis a vis rights of citizens


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Coronavirus disease or COVID 19 is an infectious disease caused by a new virus. It has been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) with a call on all governments to tackle it with utmost seriousness.

Governments across the world have taken and continue to take various public safety measures to help contain the virus; some of such measures; include protocols on social distancing, maintaining strict hygiene standards such as the washing of hands regularly, use of alcohol-based sanitizers as frequently as possible, avoiding crowded places, covering your mouth and nose with a bent elbow when sneezing, and last but not the least staying at home as much as possible unless it is unavoidable.

In addition, scientists and medical researchers are working around the clock to come up with vaccines and case management treatments. Medical staff are also doing their best with case management of patients. Everyone, one way or the other is concerned and doing something positive to curb this menace

The measures undertaken by governments to help contain the disease have been challenged by sections of society as impugning on the rights of citizens the world over.

Some of these measures include “self- isolation” and “quarantine” which here in Ghana are catered for under the Public Health Act 2012(Act 851). Other steps include, “contact tracing”, which involves tracing everyone who has come into contact or suspected to come into contact with persons diagnosed to be infected with COVID 19 disease.

The government of Ghana has adopted several measures to curb the spread of the COVID 19 disease nationwide. The President has issued directives for the closure of our borders and a partial lockdown in the Greater Accra and Ashanti Regions. Our Parliament has passed the Imposition of Restrictions Act 2020(Act 1012) to further give effect to these directives issued by the President.

All these powers are derived from the 1992 Constitution which is unequivocal on the imposition of restrictions of rights and freedoms in the interest of defense, public safety, public order and public health.

Due to the focus of the educational campaigns on the protocols mentioned earlier, there is some stigma associated with being infected with the COVID 19 disease thereby infected persons are shying away and not voluntarily offering themselves for the testing, contact tracing and treatment.

The President has, therefore, had to issue The Establishment of Emergency Communications Systems Instrument 202,(Executive Instrument 63) as a means of using our communication systems to trace all persons who have come into contact with persons infected and diagnosed as having the COVID 19 disease.

The crux of the matter is what these laws, regulations and directives seek to achieve?

Historically, whether in politics or religion, persons have at some point had to relinquish some of their rights to a higher authority in an effort to tackle a pressing issue or to resolve a particular problem that has arisen in society.

There is no doubt that, the Covid19 is a serious attack on public health and safety and this disease does not distinguish which class of people to infect; Prime Ministers, World leaders, film stars and footballers have all fallen to the COVID 19 disease.

We can liken the current situation to surveillance cameras installed in our offices and homes, Yes they are intrusive, however, this concern for privacy is overridden by the very purpose and function for which the surveillance camera is installed, which is to capture and expose the nefarious activities of intruders, offenders and criminals.

It can further be likened to the situation of an ill patient whose survival depends on a surgical operation being undertaken on his body by a medical team. This patient’s main consideration would and should be his survival and not exposure to his nakedness to the medical team.

This Executive Instrument (63) has been triggered in this crisis situation, which is the COVID 19 pandemic and one that is extremely urgent.

The issue of proportionality comes into question, the question is whether these restrictive measures being taken by the government are proportional to the current crisis at hand?

The answer is yes. As can be seen from Wuhan, China the main initial epicenter of the virus. The Chinese government left no stone unturned in instituting measures, including restrictive ones such as a total lockdown of Wuhan, the imposition of fines and imprisonment for offenders of these new restrictive measures. In fact, Wuhan was in this “lockdown” for 77 days. The results can be seen, today China is back on its feet, as against those European countries and the United States of America who have been reluctant to fully implement these restrictive measures in their countries.

With our limping public health sector and highly under-developed housing structure in Ghana, where we still live in a largely communal set-up, use of public washrooms/restrooms, overcrowding of most average families in single rooms, the large influx of migrants from the north to south of Ghana and from neighbouring West African nations into the country. These measures, have proven to stall the spread of the COVID 19 disease in Ghana.

The Ghana Health Service confirms a total of 313 positive cases with 6 deaths as of 7 April 2020.

Out of a total of 1030 travellers who arrived in the county between the 21st -22 March 2020 and were mandatorily quarantined, 105 (10.2 %) tested positive after initial and subsequent testings.

With respect to enhanced contact tracing and testing, 37(0.34%) out of a total of 11,016 samples were confirmed positive as at 7 April 2020.

These confirmed cases were detected through the mandatory quarantine and enhanced surveillance activities which proves that the current measures adopted are yielding results and proving effective in helping curb the spread of the COVID 19 disease.

By: E. Eguakun, Legal Practitioner and JmKk, HSE Advocate.
Credit: Report from The Ghana Health Service.

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