On December 31st, 2019 many of us had great expectations for the coming year, 2020. New Year resolutions were made and predictions as well. But little did we know what was in store for us.
A virus with similarities as the Spanish flu of 1918 showed its ugly head in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The international media space was dominated with stories of how fast the virus was spreading across the globe especially in Europe. Soon Italy became the epicentre of the virus with thousands of people dying from it. Fast forward, the United State of America has now become the epicentre of the virus and President Donald Trump is struggling to have a firm grip on the situation.
On the 12th of March 2020, Ghana recorded its first two cases from Norway and Turkey. Contact tracing began and more cases were detected.
President Akufo-Addo, three days after the first cases were recorded addressed the nation:
“I chaired a meeting of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Coronavirus response. After deliberations, I have decided, in the interest of public safety and the protection of our population, to review the public gathering advisories earlier announced as follows:
- All public gatherings, including conferences, workshops, funerals, festivals, political rallies, sporting events and religious activities, such as services in churches and mosques, have been suspended for the next four (4) weeks. Private burials are permitted, but with limited numbers, not exceeding twenty-five (25) in attendance;
- All Universities, Senior High Schools, and basic schools, i.e. public and private schools, will be closed from Monday, 16th March, 2020, till further notice. The Ministry of Education, in collaboration with the Ministry of Communication, has been tasked to roll out distance learning programmes. However, BECE and WASSCE candidates will be allowed to attend school to prepare for their examinations, but with prescribed social distancing protocols;
- The Government of Ghana’s Travel Advisory issued earlier today should be observed as announced;
- Businesses and other workplaces can continue to operate, but should observe prescribed social distancing between patrons and staff;
- Establishments, such as supermarkets, shopping malls, restaurants, night clubs, hotels and drinking spots, should observe enhanced hygiene procedures by providing, amongst others, hand sanitizers, running water and soap for washing of hands;
- The Ministry of Transport should work with the transport unions and private and public transport operators to ensure enhanced hygienic conditions in all vehicles and terminals, by providing, amongst others, hand sanitizers, running water and soap for washing of hands; and
- The Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development should co-ordinate, with the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies, measures to enhance conditions of hygiene in markets across the country.
These measures were hailed by many Ghanaians as being timely and precise. On the 19th of March the President held a meeting with Christian leaders to seek the face the God in this crisis. A national day of fasting and prayer was declared. The next day was the turn of the Muslims, led by the National Chief Imam, Shiehk Osman Nuhu Sharabutu, prayers were said for the country and for Allah’s intervention to save the land. The President had already instructed the Attorney-General to lay before Parliament the Imposition of Restrictions Bill, 2020.
I remember an argument with few colleagues over this Bill in which l told them the passage of this Bill into law clears the way for a lockdown. I remember my colleague Fred Djabanor telling me he does not foresee a lockdown in Ghana, my response was simple ‘’Time will tell.’’
Already, the President had set up a National Covid-19 Response Team led by himself and the Vice President as Deputy. The President put Dr. Asamoah Barfi, a former Deputy Director-General of the World Health Organization in-chrge of the National Response Team. The following were named as members of the team; Kwaku Agyeman Manu, Health Minister, Kan Dapaah, National Security Minister, Ambrose Dery Interior Minister, Dr Anthony Nsiah Asare, former Director-General of the Ghana Health Service, Prof William Ampofo, Virologist at the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research, as well as the Director-General of the Ghana Health Service and Head of the country’s security agencies IGP, CDS, Immigration Boss and others.
The National COVID-19 Response Team meets every day, yes, everyday including weekends and holidays. Sometimes the meetings last for long hours.
On the 21st of March, the President announced more stringent measures which included the refusal to allow people from corona virus infested places from arriving in the country. The President also announced that all persons seeking to arrive in the country will be compulsorily quarantined for two weeks and tested for covid-19.
That decision paid off. He later said, “at the time of my last broadcast, Ghana had recorded twenty-one (21) confirmed cases of infections, with virtually all the cases being imported. I took the step to close all our borders, and I ordered a mandatory quarantine and testing of all the one thousand and thirty (1,030) persons who arrived at the airport at the time of the announcement till the day the borders were closed. Indeed, seventy-eight (78) of the persons put under quarantine have since tested positive for the virus. It is these additional confirmations that have increased dramatically our total number of cases to one hundred and thirty-seven (137). Indeed, 97% of all confirmed cases are travelers who brought the disease from outside our shores. Of the remaining fifty-nine (59) confirmed cases, fifty-three (53) are receiving treatment and are doing well, and they will be discharged should their second test results prove negative. Fourteen (14) of them are being managed at home in self-isolation. Four (4) persons, who had tested positive for the virus, but were aged and had other serious, underlying medical conditions, have lost their lives. May their souls rest in perfect peace. Thankfully, two (2) persons have made full recoveries’’
This got many thinking, whether the borders should have been closed earlier.
President Akufo-Addo has always said that every move by the government following this pandemic has five main objectives. These are; limit and stop the importation of the virus; contain its spread; provide adequate care for the sick; limit the impact of the virus on social and economic life, and inspire the expansion of our domestic capability and deepen our self-reliance.
On Thursday March 26, 2020, a Police circular leaked. It spelt out details of how a lockdown would be implemented, the roadblocks, the snap checkpoints and the personnel to deploy. It was going to a combination of the Army, Police, Immigration, Fire Service and the Prison Service.
This was scary, and many people like myself were wondering how it was going to be. Fear gripped many of us and colleagues in the media expressed mixed reactions. For us, it was the first time we were going to see and experience such a thing.
So on the 27th of March, 2020 President announced a lockdown of Accra, Tema, Kasoa and Kumasi for two weeks and was later extended by another week. The President said the move was backed by experts’ advice and was in the best interest of the country.
In the midst of all this crisis, he established the Covid-19 National Trust Fund chaired by former Chief Justice, Madam Sophia Akuffo. The Trust Fund was to solicit support from individuals and organizations to help in the fight against the pandemic. I have followed quite keenly the activities of the Trust Fund and quite a substantial amount has been donated. Already, the President, Vice President, Chief of Staff, some officials at the Presidency and Ministers of State have all donated three months of their full salary or half of it to the Fund; that is, salaries for April, May and June.
Apart from the regular COVID-19 Response Team meeting, the President also engages relevant stakeholders on how best to address the pandemic and get life back to normal. I have had the opportunity of sitting in some of these meetings and hearing the thoughts of stakeholders.
The stakeholders included, the Council of State, National House of Chiefs, Christian Leaders, Muslims Leaders, National Union of Ghana Students-NUGS, Leaders of the University Teachers Association of Ghana-UTAG, Creative Arts Council, the National Commission on Culture, Political Party Leaders, Organized Labour led by the TUC, the Ghana Medical Association, Allied Health Professionals, Ghana Registered Nurses and Midwives Association, The Ghana Journalists Association-GJA, the National Media Commission-NMC, the Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association-GIBA and members of the Hospitalities Industry.
A central theme run through all these discussions, government should do what is best for the country.
On the 5th of April, the President came to our homes again with his “anadwo nkomo”, this time he said, “furthermore, Government will absorb the water bills for all Ghanaians for the next three months, i.e. April, May and June. All water tankers, publicly and privately-owned, are also going to be mobilised to ensure the supply of water to all vulnerable communities.” As this was not enough, a week later, the President announced that government was absorbing 50 percent of electricity bills for households and industries and free for persons or households on the ECG lifeline.
That was not all, he announced an incentive for persons he described as “frontline workers,” a name that has sparked lots of debate in the country. We will come to that subject later.
Nana Akufo-Addo says ‘’ An insurance package, with an assured sum of three hundred and fifty thousand cedis (GH¢350,000) for each health personnel and allied professional at the forefront of the fight, has been put in place, with a daily allowance of one hundred and fifty cedis (GH¢150) being paid to contact tracers. Government has also decided that all health workers will not pay taxes on their emoluments for the next three months, i.e. April, May and June. Furthermore, all frontline health workers will receive an additional allowance of fifty percent (50%) of their basic salary per month, i.e. for March, April, May and June. The March allowance will be paid alongside that of April’’, happy times to be a frontline health worker.
During that same process, the Finance Minister, Ken Ofori Atta was in Parliament to seek approval for government to dip its hands into the nation’s coffers for some intervention programmes known as the Coronavirus Alleviation Programme (CAP), whose objective is to protect households and livelihoods, support micro, small, and medium-sized businesses, minimize job losses, and source additional funding for promotion of industries to shore up and expand industrial output for domestic consumption and exports. Government’s projection is that the fight against the coronavirus pandemic is set to cost Ghana some 9.5 billion cedis, and this will be 2.5 percent of Ghana’s revised GDP. The pandemic will also take a toll on Ghana’s GDP growth. GDP which was projected to grow at 8 percent will come low to 2.6 percent. These are troubling statistics!
On Saturday, April 18th, 2020 there was a National Covid-19 Response Team meeting as always. The meeting lasted for hours as usual. What I am told caused the long delay of the meeting was the divided opinion over moves by the President to lift the lockdown imposed in Accra, Tema, Kasoa and Kumasi. Members of the team were divided over the move, whilst others thought it was the best to save the economy, many also thought the virus was spreading and needed to be brought under control. At the end of the day, those who pushed for the lockdown to be lifted won.
So on Sunday, April 19th, the President came into our homes again as promised; he officially announced the lifting on the lockdown and explained that his decision was backed by science and data. The President said, “government’s ability to trace victims of this disease, being able to test, being able to isolate and quarantine those people so that we take them out of the population, and, of course, the treatment,” influenced this conclusion.
But this decision to lift the lockdown was met with stiff opposition as many thought it was a wrong move considering the rapid spread of the virus. I never supported the decision to lift the lockdown, even though it was hurting the economy, public health was more important, in my view. The President himself had said that he and his team knew how to bring the economy back to life, but what they did not know was how to bring people who died of this deadly virus back.
When the lockdown was lifted, the streets of Accra and Kumasi were filled with people jubilating as if the Black Stars of Ghana had scored a goal. No social distancing, no wearing of face mask. Nothing. In any case, the lockdown kept people at home, even though we had some recalcitrant Ghanaians breaching it, the message was generally obeyed and majority stayed at home.
On the 1st of May, 2020 a day to celebrate workers in Ghana, the President had to address us from the studios of the Ghana Broadcasting Cooperation (GBC) because of the ban on social gatherings. The ban that came into force in the early stages of the pandemic in Ghana. It comes with the closure of schools, churches, mosque and all public events. At the May Day celebration, the President announced an extension of the closure of the country’s borders to May 31st. Mind you, this border closure had been announced after over 20 cases were recorded in March this year. Many people including myself thought this decision could have come a long time ago. I believe strongly that if our borders had closed early enough, we would not have been recording the many cases we are today. This closure has however left any Ghanaians stranded in ‘’obimanso’’. My cousin doctor, Nana Yaa Ampadu is still in the US city of Maryland itching to come home. I’m also told that rapper Sarkodie and Samini are also living in ‘’obimanso’’ and missing home.
By Wednesday, May 6th, 2020 Ghana had recorded 2,719 cases with 294 recoveries and 18 deaths. Fast forward, on Sunday, May 10, 2020, during the President’s address to the nation, he announced that the total number of cases in Ghana shot up to 4,700 with 494 recoveries and 22 deaths.
President Akufo-Addo has enjoyed the support of many Ghanaians who say measures taken so far have been the best. He has also had foreign nations praising him for a good job so far, but Mr. President in your own words ‘’we are not out of the woods yet and we are not letting our guard down either. Despite all the praise-singing a bad decision from you may see the whole nation coming after you.
I see you every day and l see the pressure on you, I see you every day and I see the zeal and determination in your eyes to get this pandemic behind us and get our lives back to normal again.
We admit that it’s a tough time to be a leader and a President, balancing public health and the health of the economy is not an easy thing, but we are supporting you with prayers and hoping that the good Lord will make our nation great and strong.
‘’Fellow Ghanaians’’ let’s all do what we can to help curb the spread of this virus.
The writer, Sammi Wiafe, is Citi FM/TV’s Presidential Affairs Correspondent
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