For many newly-minted Ghanaians, facing a deadly pandemic as COVID-19 got us torn between reality and fiction. The horror of a virus pushing far into the corner the hope for survival. In one breadth, everything seems like a science fiction and in another, everything looks perfectly real as we watch the real scenes of people elsewhere.
You can't believe you are also here - just in one twinkle of an eye you feel almost like those in Wuhan and Milan. For us here in Ghana, it has been like the early morning news as usual - watching afar the images on the screens and reading details on prints. But now we feel like we are living with it - COVID-19 and its uncertainty, spreading even more than the virus itself.
Many of us are contemplating whether we need a lockdown at this time? Zou Yue of China Global Television Network in sharing China’s experience remarked that, facing a global pandemic like COVID 19 is not what matters but how we respond to it.
According to Kwame Nfodwo - an international governance expert; the objective of lockdown would be to master the management of the disease, control its spread and if possible, terminate community-acquired infections and achieve tolerable levels of clinical and hospital care that does not overwhelm our fragile health delivery system.
No doubt we have to think about the way forward as a country. For us who are concerned about the structure of the economy and its potential impact on livelihoods have a point, but must it end there? Can we also consider the potential effect to lives and cost to livelihoods as the spread of the virus continues exponentially in our case? Can our current health system be able to support us with the essential health delivery, at least?
Health experts predict that, Africa is yet to experience worst cases of COVID-19 due to the low testing levels. That said, there could be further spikes in positively tested cases if we have the capacity to test like other Western and Asian countries. This, is indeed, a challenging time for the country. Nevertheless, we will still pay the price whether we take any precautionary measures now or not.
Many countries seem to be testing their own strategies so as to prevent a possible meltdown as was in the past century.
Consequently, some countries have chosen to implement partial or complete lockdown due to the level of the devastating effects of the virus. Chinas’ Hubei province -the epicenter of COVID-19 with a population of 61 million implemented a total lockdown when they found 1 infection out of every 19,264 people with a single death out of every 34 infected persons. Similarly, Italy who is currently recording the highest number of deaths (6077) implemented a total lockdown when 1 out of every 6,541 of its people tested positive with one death of every 94 infected cases. China’s pragmatic action proved to be effective as they have so far recorded zero local infections for three continuous days as compared to increasing number of infections and death cases for Italy with the number of deaths reaching 6,077 far exceeding Chinas’ 3,160. Subsequently many more countries like United States of America, United Kingdom and the latest South Africa have implemented either partial or total lockdowns.
Lockdown is of course extreme, restrictive, aggressive and perhaps, one would say; an "abuse of human rights". But the balance between individual human rights and public safety is always a fluid concept. Indeed, during the Ebola outbreak in 2014, Sierra Leone and Liberia implemented some level of lockdowns. Currently, the number of confirmed cases in Ghana have reached 52 and this is 92% increase over the last 24 hours with one death out of every 26 infections. So, I ask, can we trade a little freedom for the greater good of the public?
South Korea who has been commended by World Health Organization for managing COVID-19 did not earn its scores on a silver platter. South Korea had to loosen their privacy laws that enabled the government to have extensive instant access to personal information to track not only confirmed cases but suspected cases with complimented in-person interviews.
In modern economic society, the public policy needs both ends to agree, the government who is the decision maker and the people who are the takers. Can we as Ghanaians push the frontiers of this discussion to decide the way to go before the worst happens? Where do we stand as a country? As suggested by Zou Yue of CGTN, these extraordinary times, and every economy needs a new contract signed between politicians, businesses and the public, and we must act as such. There is no decision without tradeoffs. But in the end, it is the ultimate best that we must affirm to pursue. What do we believe as a country would be best for all involved at this time?
There are already some suggestions and advices on the tables of the decision-makers. But in this crucial moment quality decision is no longer a luxury nor a choice at will. We need to be prudent in the policy measures we have to implement to have any chance of preventing the worse from happening. In the spirit of good will and participatory development, I support the government with these policy options to strengthen our preparedness to combat COVID 19.
1. Ministries for Monitoring & Evaluation & Finance quickly and thoroughly run an assessment of the potential impact of a lockdown whether partial or total on the various sectors of the economy.
2. Discuss with industry players on how they can review their annual returns and adjust their operations to limit the number of staff on daily basis in line with presidential guidelines on gathering in-return for some incentives.
3. Engage our employed nurses and related graduates, retired critical health professionals to be recruited as volunteers/on limited contract, request the Red Cross to recruit more volunteers (include relevant health-related students).
4. NADMO, together with social services department must activate their emergency preparedness protocols and identify places of hardest hit for social intervention (lets also not forget our rains are coming very soon).
5. National Buffer Stock must review their receipts and inform government of food stock levels and food security strategies.
6. Social safety nets be designed for the informal sectors and vulnerable groups for the urban population. i.e. kayaye, market women, trotro drivers. In this regard, government must be commended for spraying if markets to safe their health and businesses.
7. Ministry of Communication in collaboration with the National Board for Small Scale Business (NBSSB) must be tasked to educate small businesses to use social media and digital tools to provide goods and services. In addition, it helps them to advertise their businesses on radio and television. For small businesses that are willing to digitize; a portal can be created for them to register by satisfying safety criteria like the hygienic delivery system and the ability to regularly disinfect delivery systems and possess MoMo accounts for transactions in order to be given clearance to operate.
8. Religious bodies and organizations must be encouraged by the government to channel Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) resources to support government efforts. E.g. producing and distributing sanitizers, pay voluntary health workers, identify low income earning groups in churches and mosques and provide them with foodstuff and other essentials. Again, religious bodies must be encouraged to have dedicated numbers for members to call and report their health conditions for assistance from health professionals within their communities.
9. Lastly, NGO’s and social organizations are encouraged to initiate funding-raising campaigns to support vulnerable groups.
In all sincerity, we need to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Do we set the high bars or pay the high prices now?
Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator at Cocoa Merchant Ghana Limited.