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08.05.2020 Headlines

[Full Text] Minority Statement On Ghana's Worsening Covid-19 Situation And The National Response

[Full Text] Minority Statement On Ghana's Worsening Covid-19 Situation And The National Response
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PRESS CONFERENCE BY THE NDC MINORITY IN PARLIAMENT ON GHANA'S WORSENING COVID-19 SITUATION AND THE NATIONAL RESPONSE - ADDRESSED BY THE HON. MINORITY LEADER, HARUNA IDDRISU.

The Minority in Ghana's Parliament is grateful to you for honouring our invitation to this press engagement.

We are thankful to all Ghanaians including civil society organizations, faith based groups, volunteers and other governance partners for the continuous support, feedback, expert inputs and solidarity as we work together in the collective progress of our country.

Let me begin by paying tribute and salute our frontline health care workers who are risking their lives every day, every hour and every minute to keep us all safe and reduce the adverse impact of the deadly COVID-19 which has so far infected 3,091 persons, over 2,000 more since President Akufo-Addo lifted the lockdown.

It is our frontline health care workers who are the real heroes of this defining moment in the history of humankind.

We salute journalists, security personnel, utility workers and all volunteers on the frontlines and assure them of our heartfelt appreciation and that of the constituents we represent.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our nation and the world is confronted with the greatest challenge of our lifetime.

The novel coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on the health of our citizens and the health of the economy. Concerned with this development, we in the Minority presented a memorandum containing far reaching suggestions on managing the pandemic. We intended it for discussion on the floor of the House but it was not to be. Our Flag bearer, Former President John Mahama set up a technical advisory team to support the national effort even as he himself offered assistance by way of well-reasoned suggestions as well as donations of critically needed supplies to health care personnel all over the country and food supplies to vulnerable groups. We continue to play our part as responsible citizens.

In Ghana, more than 3,000 of our compatriots have contracted the virus thus far with 18 precious lives lost. Our condolences to bereaved families and the family and medical fraternity on the loss of Prof. Jacob Plange-Rhule, Rector of the College of Physicians and Surgeons. Every life lost is one life too many. And so we consider as irresponsible, a statement by the President’s Adviser on Health dismissing the number of lives lost as insignificant. The dead have families who deserve empathy. Let me add that Ghana’s death toll may be low to some people but there may be things we are not seeing and recording.

The impact of COVID-19 on our economy has been most devastating - from massive job losses, closure of businesses to a historic fall in GDP growth.

This certainly cannot be the time for old-fashioned excessive partisan politics and infantile name calling as Vice President Dr. Mahamadu Bawumia sought to do earlier this week.

This is the time to focus every attention on this national crisis that threatens the very foundations of our society

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The latest update - a staggering 3,091 confirmed cases, the second highest in West Africa after Nigeria which has reported 3,145 cases though we should be more worried when we compare our population to that of Nigeria. This troubling development should serve as a wakeup call that the time for wishful thinking is over. To quote Former President Mahama, “Hope is a comfort, but it is not a strategy.” Government’s response so far has been rather slow, based on loose interpretations of the science, and often detached from the facts on the ground.

Couldn’t we have locked down earlier?

Couldn’t we have closed our borders earlier?

Couldn’t we have started massive public education in local languages earlier?

Couldn’t we have developed our humanitarian response plan earlier?

We should have had a comprehensive strategic plan in place earlier. A document we have requested without success, making us wonder if there's one.

We lost the opportunity to do all of these and many more because President Akufo-Addo did not prioritize. He was touring in Europe even though the alarm bells of the coming pandemic were ringing. Then, shortly upon his return we had the first two cases of the virus infection. One of them had actually been with the President during his happy travel to Europe.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The sharp rise in the number of cases reported by authorities in the last two weeks is deeply worrying. The attempt to downplay this fact is unacceptable. Ghanaians expect the professionals entrusted with responsibility for managing the crisis to be forthright and refrain from interpreting data that is not grounded in the science of the pandemic. And here, I refer to a recent statement by a member of the National Response Team that we have peaked in terms of the number of infected persons.

Misuse of such terms without empirical basis appear to be designed to fit into a certain narrative ahead of the President’s next broadcast. It appears to be part of a strategy to create an atmosphere of normalcy in the lead to the next presidential broadcast and as for the reason, your guess is as good as mine. Evidently, President Akufo-Addo seems more interested in his re-election than in the safety and life of Ghanaians. That fact keeps unfolding.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Many professionals have observed that the data being published by the Ghana Health Service does not lend itself to meaningful analysis in the form it is presented. The absence of several key data points that would allow independent researchers to understand the rate of spread and the demographics of the pandemic have not been made public. And there continue to be legitimate concerns about some of the data that actually is available.

On two separate occasions in April, the number of confirmed cases under routine surveillance was revised downwards without any explanation whatsoever. And the test positivity rate for travelers under mandatory quarantine literally doubled after the last update. No explanation was offered for that either. This lack of transparency only serves to undermine public trust in government’s commitment to this fight, and that directly affects our likelihood of successfully avoiding a worsening situation.

Ladies and gentlemen, these are not normal times and reality must guide our next steps. We are well past the time for parochial thinking. Egotism, willful ignorance and empty rhetoric will not save us. The cheap stunts designed to bolster a faltering narrative will not save us. Blatant falsehoods told to garnish the image of this administration in the face of the foreign press will not save us. What these will do, instead, is consolidate a false sense of security in the Ghanaian public that will obscure our view of the danger we face. Indeed, false claims about low prices of local foodstuff on the market, plantain included is part of the grand scheme to create a false sense of security. Without an appreciation for the plain reality of our situation, the preventive measures will not be taken seriously. And if they are not taken seriously, we will lose this fight and we will pay a heavy price for it.

If government persists in this course, posterity will judge this administration as the most self-indulgent administration that ever had the privilege of the people’s mandate. And should any section of our society aid and abet this abdication of the most fundamental responsibility of government - the protection of the people and preservation of the Republic for the generations behind us - then we will rightly share in that infamy.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Right from the word go, government’s response to the crisis revealed a lack of foresight and a fundamental denial of the nature of the foe we face in COVID-19.

As already alluded to, this manifested itself in the failure of government to prioritize planning and preparations for COVID-19 during the many weeks after the declaration of a global health emergency by the World Health Organisation on January 30, 2020. They sat idly by - failing to provide the initial GHS35 million needed for our preparedness plan despite seeing the havoc it was wreaking all over the world - and made almost no provisions for the eventuality of an outbreak in Ghana, relying instead on false hopes around climate and genetics. The WHO country assessment which followed at the time vindicates our position.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Government put in place inadequate structures which did not aid us to enhance our surveillance and detect cases here more rapidly by expanding our testing capacity. They failed to recognize the seriousness of the threat and left our borders open even at the time they refused to evacuate our students in Wuhan; and they left the borders open far beyond what was possibly reasonable under the circumstances, and even when nations all over the world were closing theirs.

Government failed to anticipate the devastating effects that a COVID-19 outbreak would have on our social life and our economy, and were grossly unprepared to soften the blow for the most vulnerable people and households in our nation when a lockdown became necessary. The inept, partisan and disastrous manner Government distributed food relief only exacerbated the risk.

And to conceal that failure, to shirk responsibility for its consequences, they prematurely lifted the restrictions on movement against the advice of some of the most respected authorities on public health in Ghana.

Government's financial response has exposed what was hitherto touted as a robust economy as Government virtually had no reserves to confront the pandemic. But for the World Bank, the IMF and the Stabilisation Fund left behind by former President John Mahama God knows where this economy buoyed by propaganda steroids would have left us.

At every point in its response, Government has been playing catch up. The reactionary policymaking that this has occasioned has left our containment efforts lagging behind the threat. Even now, when it is clear that we have ongoing local transmission in almost every region of this country, this government continues to downplay its extent and consequences.

The fact is we have almost no idea about the true scale of the problem because nearly three months into the pandemic we are still trying to formulate a testing strategy that allows us to estimate the general prevalence of COVID-19 on a timely basis.

We are well beyond the point in this crisis where our testing should have been broadened in recognition of the outward spread of the virus from the hotspots. News about new facilities is welcome, but long overdue. And those delays have certainly come at a cost.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The scientists at Noguchi and all our testing facilities deserve this nation’s thanks for the commitment they have shown in this national effort so far. But government must honour that hard work by being sincere about the data and what it really means. Government is selling false hope of a situation under control and using its management of information as a cover for this farce. That insults the intelligence of the Ghanaian people and makes a mockery of the seriousness of the situation. Candour and consistency must be the order of the day.

Testing, tracing, monitoring and isolation where necessary must be the daily routine.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

What President Akufo-Addo and his government must understand is that their apparent choice to face this pandemic as more a PR exercise rather than a real crisis management effort will ultimately be exposed. You cannot outsmart the science, and you cannot outrun reality. But we in the Minority have absolutely no desire to witness such a failure because the cost will be counted in Ghanaian lives and livelihoods.

If the containment strategy government has wed itself to unravels any further the brunt of this burden will fall on the frontline health care workers. Their courage and competence are going to be the last defense for many of our countrymen who will face the worst of this disease. And yet, despite the President’s lofty rhetoric and grand assurances, the healthcare system remains so unbelievably unprepared for the battle that has already begun.

Our health care workers cannot face the weeks ahead unequipped and unprotected. They cannot provide the needed care to the critically ill if they continue to lack adequate PPEs and even basic supplies such as hand sanitizers. And they should not have to pay for these things out of their own pockets, let alone go begging for them from the public. This is unpardonable. And government mocks their commitment in insisting that the very real dangers they face - the dangers to their families too - are well under control and nothing to be concerned about.

In this respect, the recent pronouncements of the Health Minister to the effect that some health care workers are engaged in selling PPEs for personal profit without providing any scintilla of evidence is an utter insult to our heroes who are sacrificing so much. We roundly condemn the Minister's irresponsible utterances. We dare him to provide specific evidence and stop denigrating all health workers.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Minority is deeply worried about how science has been relegated to the background by the President. Instead, the President now appears to be relying on Signs and Wonders forgetting the old adage that Heaven helps those who help themselves.

The President took a terrible gamble with our lives when he lifted the lockdown at a time our case count was increasing.

That decision has led to the situation where since the removal of the lockdown, confirmed cases have more than doubled and deaths have more than tripled. His quagmire: the economy/politics versus health.

We have also in the process seen hotspots emerge virtually in all parts of Ghana since the lifting of the lockdown.

President Akufo-Addo must take responsibility for this unfortunate turn of events,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Minority has duly taken note that following the President's reversal of the partial lockdown and our worsening case count, the reputable Ghana Medical Association has publicly called for a different approach in containing and limiting the spread of COVID-19. We are in full support of this call. President Akufo-Addo should be led by sound epidemiological data and not political calculations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Minority's demand for a new policy approach based on Science is borne out of the need to preserve human lives and protect our health system.

Ghana's case count is now amongst the most infected countries in Africa. This has frightening prospects which demands an urgent change in strategy. As the science dictates, this cannot be the time for further easing of restrictions. We expect a more proactive policy response. We should be fighting the virus ahead of it and not from behind.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is absolutely troubling and shocking that in the face of such a pandemic, our Government chooses to supply PPEs to officials of the Electoral Commission when doctors, nurses and other frontline health care workers are crying for PPEs.

It is equally shocking that Government officials are publicly justifying the irresponsible conduct of the Electoral Commission in defying the restrictions imposed by the President even in the face of a court injunction secured by our colleague, Hon. Sam George.

All these come at a time the EC's plan to begin its infamous and life-threatening registration in June this year has been exposed after a presentation the EC made to ECOWAS leaked. It is worth noting that the EC's timetable as presented to ECOWAS remains unknown to Parliament and opposition political parties.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Minority is concerned about the plight of Ghanaians who appear stranded in other jurisdictions following the closure of our borders. It is our considered view that just as our Government is able to open our airports despite the closures for foreign nationals to be evacuated out of Ghana, Government should do same by providing a narrow opportunity under strict evacuation protocols of screening, testing and quarantine in order to rescue our fellow compatriots.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Minority urges Government to ensure a high level of accountability with the funds and donations they have thus far received in the fight against COVID-19. Claims by NADMO of spending GHS2 million a day on feeding an opaque number of Ghanaians during the lockdown would not be allowed to pass. May we serve notice that we shall insist on full transparency and a thorough audit of all funds received.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On the basis of the evidence available, evidence based on the science and driven by sound epidemiological data, the Minority wishes to advise President Akufo-Addo to tread cautiously and not take decisions to ease restrictions just to satisfy narrow political ends. This is a time for health care professionals, civil society, religious leaders and traditional rulers to be adults in the room offering guidance and fearless advice for the sake of the country.

Nothing can be more important than the value which we must place on human lives.

Let us all return to the table of science and be guided by same.

I commend all Ghanaians for the difficult sacrifices we have all been willing to bear for our collective protection.

Please it is important that we all continue to adhere strictly to the hygiene and social distancing protocols.

In that regard, Government should make provision for the vulnerable in our society by providing them with free face masks. We disagree with the Health Minister when we assumes every Ghanaian can afford and that every Ghanaian knows where to find the appropriate face mask to purchase. Some MPs have been able to support the vulnerable with free face masks and we believe Government has no excuse to abdicate.

Let us soldier on. With sincerity towards scientific data and genuine solidarity for all our compatriots, COVID-19 shall be defeated.

Thank you very much. We shall now take your questions.

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