THE UNWANTED GUEST- THE COVID-19 SITUATION IN GHANA

On the 15th of March 2020, Ghanaians gathered around their televisions to watch President Nana Akufo-Addo give his first national address on the COVID-19 situation in Ghana. Various social media platforms were buzzing with mixed feelings about what the President was going to say.  Before that, on the 12th of March, 2020, Ghana had confirmed its first 2 cases of COVID-19.

Our biggest fears were becoming a reality. We had an unwanted guest.

There had been news reports from news outlets like Aljazeera, about how the virus originated from China and spread to other countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Spain. Ghanaians had started practising strict hygiene and practising social distancing. Hand sanitizers were out of stock and it was almost impossible to find a store that sold some. Just like how the Ebola outbreak did not cross over into Ghana, the people of Ghana hoped and prayed that this too will pass over them. Ghanaians were not prepared for how things were going to change over the next few days.

The Enemy

On 31st December 2019, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) China office heard the first reports of an unknown virus behind some pneumonia cases in Wuhan, a city in China. With its symptoms similar to the flu or common cold, COVID-19 has some distinct characteristics. Being compared with SARS, which had a significantly higher case fatality ratio, COVID-19 has had much greater spread. What started as an epidemic mainly limited to China, has now become a global pandemic. Worldwide, as of 14th April 2020, there have been 1,848,439 confirmed cases of COVID-19 including 117,217 deaths and counting, reported to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The Enemy that walks amongst us

By the 21st of March, there was a sum of 21 cases in 2 regions of Ghana with 1 death recorded. These cases were only in the Greater Accra Region and the Ashanti Region. Fast forward to the 14th of April 2020, where a total number of 636 confirmed cases were recorded with 8 deaths and 17 recoveries distributed among 10 regions in Ghana. Out of the confirmed cases, 70% of those who tested positive for the virus had no history of travel. Now, that was problematic. According to the Minister of Information, Honorable Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, the sudden spike in case incidence is a result of the mandatory quarantine and compulsory testing for all travellers entering Ghana, enhanced contact tracing and testing and routine surveillance.

#COVIDOUT

The President of Ghana shared his 5-point objective in fighting the outbreak during his first national address. 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”. In 5 subsequent nationwide televised addresses, the President listed some measures to help mitigate the situation. All travellers, except Ghanaian citizens and persons with Ghana residence permits, who had been to a country that has recorded at least 200 cases of COVID-19, were not to be admitted into the Ghanaian jurisdiction. There was also a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for people who entered the country. All the borders; air, land and sea, were to be closed for two weeks. The closure was extended for another 2 weeks. President Nana Akufo-Addo banned all public gatherings including funerals, religious activities and other related activities to help reduce the spread of the virus. All schools were also to be closed down. On the 26th of March 2020, all staff on study leave were recalled into active service by the Ghana Health Service.

 On Friday, 28th March 2020, a two-week partial lockdown was declared by President Akufo-Addo in some key cities in the capital Accra (Accra, Tema and Kasoa) and Kumasi in the Ashanti Region effective 30th March 2020. Some services were excluded from the restrictions. These include services in the food value chain and services in the production, distribution and marketing of pharmaceuticals, paper and plastic packages. To make the lives of people in the restricted areas a little comfortable, Government also pledged to absorb the water and electricity bills of lifeline consumers and fifty per cent for other consumers in the affected areas for April, May and June. The Electricity Corporation of Ghana was ordered to provide constant electricity to all areas affected by the partial lockdown. The Ministries of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Local Government and Rural Development and the National Disaster Management Organization (NADMO), working with the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives (MMDCEs) and the Faith-Based organizations, were to provide food for up to 400,000 individuals and homes in the affected areas- Accra, Tema, Kumasi and Kasoa and provide temporal shelter for some homeless persons.

Health workers were given incentives such as a special life insurance covers worth GHC350, 000 on each life for the professionals at the frontline dealing with the pandemic and free bus transport to convey them to and from work. Furthermore, all frontline health workers will receive an additional allowance of fifty per cent (50%) of their basic salary per month, i.e. for March, April, May and June. The March allowances will be paid alongside that of April. A cedi equivalent of $100 million has been set aside by Government for the fight against COVID-19.

The Ministry of Information organizes regular press briefings on updates of Ghana’s case management and other related news. Due to the increasing number of cases, intensive contact tracing and routine surveillance, the partial lockdown was extended for another week by the President.

Effects on Ghana’s economy

An African Union (AU) study showed that most African economies are projected to shrink in 2020 due to the pandemic even though the continent accounts for the least fraction of total cases worldwide. The pandemic has had an obvious effect on the economy of Ghana. The Bank of Ghana already indicated that the economic growth rate will be 2.5% in a worse situation.

The impact of the COVID-19 on the country’s economy has had both negative and positive effects on trade and industry. Ghana is a country that heavily depends on importations. In 2018, Ghana imported over $2.27 billion worth of merchandise and service from China. On the brighter side, the importation of goods has greatly been reduced. Ghana deals in more imports more than exports leading to a huge trade deficit and thus leads to more borrowing from other countries. Domestic companies are not able to compete with foreign companies with close substitute goods. With the temporal “ban” on the importation, local producers of goods and services can seize this opportunity.

Many businesses are expected to collapse, the employment rate is also expected to escalate and the economy, if not managed properly will go into a recession after the pandemic. Due to the partial lockdown in selected areas, most companies and shops which provide non-essential goods and services have been closed down. Companies that can afford to have their staff work from home are making good use of this however; people who work manual jobs like masonry and auto mechanics cannot do the same. Working from home may sound like a good idea but it comes with a lot of challenges. Although the President issued that there should be a constant supply of electricity, some areas still experience power outages. Secondly, Ghana has slow internet connectivity. According to www.speedtest.net, Ghana’s average mobile internet speed is 21.55 Mb/s as compared to other countries with fast internet speed such as the United Arab Emirates which has an average of 87.01 Mb/s. The Director of MTN Ghana, one of Ghana’s telecommunication networks, revealed that decreasing the cost of data to facilitate communication amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, could increase traffic that will affect speed.

The Tourism sector is also being heavily affected. After a successful “Year of Return” in 2019, Government’s “Beyond the Return” initiative will be on hold because of the pandemic. This initiative was anticipated to bring in huge revenue to the country. It is already affecting airports, hotels, airline businesses, tourist attractions, restaurants and pubs. Investments are slowing down because of uncertainties. Foreign investors are also not able to come to the country to transact or even embark on feasibility studies because of the closure of the borders and travel restrictions of both Ghana and their countries of origin. The underperformance of Petroleum receipts has also been seen as an effect of COVID-19. Oil prices have already started plunging. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies have agreed to cut oil output by 10 million barrels per day for May and June.  The prices of petrol and gas have been reduced significantly. Petrol consumers, who are facing tough times economically due to the virus situation, stand to save some money for other essential expenses at this critical time. After South Africa, Ghana is the second-largest cocoa producer exporting to neighbouring countries. Ghana exports Cocoa and as of January 2020, the country saw an increase in the exportation of cocoa beans. Cocoa prices have recently dropped already costing the country $1 billion. Should the pandemic persist, cocoa farmers who are employed by Ghana’s cocoa sector will be affected financially.

Public transport services have also suffered a great deal.  Social distancing is supposed to be practised in public buses known as “Trotros” with at least a seat in between persons. This affects the daily income of these drivers because they either have the option of having no passengers or very few passengers.

The Security implications

To enforce the partial lockdown, more than 37,500 police and military personnel were deployed to the restricted areas. People who are caught breaching any part of the restrictions are to be “arrested and prosecuted” according to Superintendent Sheila Abayie-Buckman, the Director of the Police Public Affairs of the Ghana Police Service. Some citizens have been circulating old videos of alleged brutalities by members of the security services and passing them off as the current security state of Ghana during the partial lockdown. President Akufo-Addo condemned those acts by saying “Nobody in their right senses does that” and declared a “cyber-hunt” for the originators and conspirators. Spreading of those videos causes fear among citizens especially those in the restricted areas. However, some security personnel were found to have been using excessive force on residents and the Inspector General of Police and the Chief of Defence Staff of the Ghana Armed Forces has taken steps to investigate. A Policewoman was shot by a soldier during lockdown duties at Tema New Town. Although it is unclear if it was an accident or intentionally, this has further raised the tension and anxiety among residents in the restricted areas.

The partial lockdown in parts of Ghana has made most companies result in working from home. There is a software application called Zoom which is popular in video conferencing, meetings and webinars. There has been a huge increase in Zoom downloads with more people working from home as a result of the partial lockdown. In the past, Zoom has had security flaws such as hackers hijacking shared screens or forcing users into calls without their knowledge and consent. Now, those who have never used this application before or refuse to read the terms and conditions, risk having their privacy breached just by signing onto the platform.

What is next for the people of Ghana? Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

“We [government] know how to bring the economy back to life. What we do not know is how to bring people back to life”. This is the quote that got President Nana Akufo-Addo a lot of praises from around the world including the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. He was urging all Ghanaians to adhere to the directives and stay at home to lessen the further spread of the novel virus. The increasing number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Ghana heightens the uncertainties of life for Ghanaians over the next few months. Will there be an extended full lockdown? How long will this pandemic prevail?  Even as the events are still unfolding, Ghanaians are keeping high spirits by hoping and praying that this too shall pass.

Written by: Josephine Nanortey

About the Author: Josephine is a young peace and security analyst currently pursuing a Masters of Arts Degree in Gender, Peace and Security at the Kofi Annan Peacekeeping Training Centre in Ghana. She is also working as a Research Intern at the Center for Security Analyses and Prevention (CSAP).

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