The coronavirus, first detected in the Wuhan province of China in the latter part of 2019, was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020. This declaration was on the basis of its widespread effects in over 150 countries within three months.
The global panic that ensued as a result of the intensity of the virus outbreak caused many countries to take a proactive stance, in an effort to protect their citizens and economies. Countries that were already affected also strived to reduce its impact on the lives of their citizens and put measures in place to stabilize their economies.
The republic of Ghana, in spite of actively making efforts to prevent the emergence of the virus in the country, reported its first two cases on March 12, 2020. Right on cue, the government of Ghana under the leadership of Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, delved into action.
The government, picking a cue from the actions and inactions of some of the hard hit countries, launched a series of initiatives to mitigate the spread of the virus and also protect the health and safety of its residents.
What did the government do?
Consistent, efficient and effective communication
A day after the WHO declared the coronavirus a global pandemic, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, made the very first of what was to be a series of regular public addresses and updates on the responses of the government to the COVID-19 outbreak. The President has, so far, given 17 of these public addresses and updates to the nation.
In his fifth update on the April 5, 2020, the President reiterated the five main objectives of the government in its fight to overcome the virus as being;
- To limit and stop the importation of the virus.
- To contain the spread of the virus within the country.
- To provide adequate care for patients with the virus.
- To limit the social and economic impacts of the virus
- To expand domestic capability and deepen Ghana’s self-reliance.
In the quest to achieve these objectives, the government initiated a number of socio-economic, public health and health system policy measures, beginning with a US$100 million package allocation to expand infrastructure, procure materials and equipment for the health sector and provide public education on how to prevent the virus.
Restrictions on movement
Considering the risk of a possible increase in the spread of the virus, a preliminary directive on the shutdown of all educational and religious institutions, as well as a ban on all other social gatherings, was instituted on March 15, 2020.
With the safety and wellbeing of the citizenry constantly being the focus, the government went on to order the closure of all country borders-by land, sea and air-on March 21, 2020. Compulsory testing and a mandatory 14-day quarantine of all travelers from countries with over 200 COVID-19 cases was also instituted. On March 27, the President, in his address, also announced a partial lockdown within the two epicenters; The Greater Accra Metropolitan Area and The Greater Kumasi Metropolitan Area.
Socio-economic welfare protection and stimulus package
In the spirit of transparency and accountability, the President inaugurated a Board of Trustees on March 29 to manage the COVID-19 National Trust Fund, which was instituted to receive all coronavirus related donations in both cash and kind.
The President, together with his Vice, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, pledged their month salaries from April to June to the fund. Many other parliamentarians and presidential appointees, in response to the show of admirable leadership by the president and the vice-president, also pledged 50% of their April to June salaries to the fund. The fund has, so far, disbursed GH¢32 million in aid of the fight against the coronavirus.
Government, through the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Gender and Social Protection, embarked on a food distribution drive to ensure that citizens affected by the pandemic in the areas under lockdown were adequately catered for.
The President, in his 5th address to the nation, announced the free supply of water and 50% waiver on electricity consumption for all residents in the country from the period of April to June, 2020. In a compassionate move to the plight of the Ghanaian citizenry, the relief package was further extended for an additional 3 months i.e. till September for the water supply and 6 months for the electricity bill waiver which is to expire in January 2021.
Frontline health workers, the true heroes and heroines of this pandemic, were also nicely compensated with a 50% increase in basic salary for the months of March to September and an Insurance Life Cover to the tune of GH¢350,000 per life, summing up to a total of GH¢10 million as announced by the Finance Minister, Ken Ofori-Atta during his mid-year budget presentation in Parliament on July 23, 2020.
They were also awarded tax exemptions on their emoluments for 6 months (April to September). Contact tracers also received a daily allowance of GH¢150. An additional amount of GHS 80 million was set aside under the Coronavirus Alleviation Programme as an incentive package for all frontline workers.
To cushion the impact of the lockdown and its restrictions on importers, the government waived rent charges and demurrages during the period of the lockdown between April 30 and March 19.
The President, over time, has made apparent his determination to make Ghanaians self-reliant in a manner that will increase patronage for locally made products, and also rely on resources and knowledge readily available within the country. In the spirit of this, government has provided support for many local companies to aid in the local production of Personal Protective Equipment.
Financial measures and interventions
On May 19, 2020, The President of the republic launched the Coronavirus Alleviation Programme in collaboration with the National Board for Small Scale Industries, Business and Trade Associations and selected commercial and rural banks.
The programme was designed to roll out a soft loan scheme of up to GH¢600 million, with a one-year moratorium and a two-year repayment period for micro, small and medium scale businesses. As at the end of the first week of September, government had delivered on its promise; with about 150,000 applicants already benefitting from these funds.
The Bank of Ghana, in cooperation with the Ghana Interbank Payments and Settlements Systems Ltd., eased transactions, instituted waivers and put measures in place to reduce online transaction charges to discourage the use of physical cash, a possible cause for the spread of the virus, and also cushion the public who undertook online transactions.
In a measure to stimulate the economy and also shield it from the impact of the coronavirus, the Central bank also slashed the monetary policy rate by 150 basis points to 14.5% and decreased the fiscal policy rate by 1.5% and 2% in reserve requirement, with a GH¢3 billion facility to support some sectors as pharmaceutical, hospitality, service and manufacturing. This was done in tandem with a 2% reduction in interest rate on loan facilities.
The Ghana Revenue Authority also awarded a two-month extension of annual tax returns and field auditing, as well as a waiver of penalties for tax payers who were required to redeem their outstanding debts by the 30th of June, 2020.
Disinfection of schools, markets and lorry stations
The Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, in response to the President’s directive, commenced the disinfection of all open spaces, markets and lorry stations, beginning with the Greater Accra Region. The Ministry of Education, in partnership with the Zoomlion Company Ltd., also disinfected senior high, special, and technical schools, as well as tertiary schools; in preparation for the return of students to class.
Amnesty to prisoners
On March 26, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo granted amnesty to 808 prisoners upon the recommendations of the Prison Service Council, in consultation with the counsel of state and in accordance with the Constitution of Ghana.
He further granted amnesty to another 794 prisoners in June making it a total of 1,602 releases. This was a laudable move by the President aimed at decreasing congestion in the prisons.
Testing, management and treatment infrastructure
Between March and mid-July, over 370,000 tests had been conducted in Ghana, making it one of the countries in WHO Africa region with the most tests per 100,000 population. With only 3 laboratories performing COVID-19 tests at the beginning of the pandemic, the capacity was later expanded to 10 laboratories. The Ministry of Health also incorporated the use of drones to collect COVID-19 test samples from over 1000 health facilities in the country.
The government was very proactive in beginning contact tracing immediately after the first confirmed cases.
All identified contacts of persons confirmed with the virus were tested accordingly. The COVID19 Tracker App was launched in April and further upgraded and relaunched in September 2020 to aid residents in assessing and self-reporting symptoms of the virus, trace contact with infected persons, as well as help infected persons access the required health services.
On August 17, 2020, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo held a virtual sod cutting event for a 100-bed infection disease centre in Accra. It has currently been completed and commissioned for use by the Vice President of the republic. With focus on improving upon the country’s health sector, the President also announced plans to commence the construction of 88 new district and 6 regional hospitals in the newly created regions.
The President, in line with the fight against the virus, passed five Executive Instruments acting as legal backings to all orders being issued within this period of the pandemic. They are;
- I.63 on ‘Establishment of Emergency Communications System Instrument, 2020, gazetted on 23rd March, 2020
- I. 64 on ‘Imposition of Restrictions (Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic) Instrument, 2020, gazetted on 23rd March, 2020;
- I.65 on ‘Imposition of Restrictions (Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic) (No.2) Instrument, 2020, gazetted on 30th March, 2020
- I. 66 on ‘Imposition of Restrictions (Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic) (No.3) Instrument, 2020, gazetted on 3rd April, 2020
- I. 164 on Imposition of Restrictions Act, 2020 (Act 1012) signed and gazetted on June 15, 2020.
Gradual ease of restrictions/opening up of economy
President Nana Akufo-Addo, in his address to the nation on April 19, 2020 lifted the lockdown imposed on the Greater Accra and Greater Kumasi Metropolitan Areas. He understood and empathized with the need for Ghanaians to begin work as they needed to make a living. He thus encouraged Ghanaians to be vigilant and adhere to all safety protocols including the compulsory wearing of face masks in public places.
With the gradual opening up of the economy, domestic flights and international flights resumed as of May 1 and September 1, 2020 respectively, after a thorough disinfection exercise was carried out and screening processes for passengers were instituted.
Mandatory testing at a cost of US$150 and an accuracy of around 99% – 100% is to be conducted on all passengers entering the country. The screening process has been identified as being relatively short and convenient for all passengers with a maximum time pegged at just 30 minutes. As at September 19, 2020, a total of 10, 061 passengers have been tested at the Kotoka International Airport.
Educational institutions were reopened in mid June, after a relatively long break which began in March. Final year students in junior high, senior high and tertiary institutions were allowed to return to school on the 15th of June in order to prepare and sit for their final examinations. Free face masks were distributed to students in order to ensure their safety and also curb the spread of the virus.
Heads of educational institutions were to ensure strict adherence and compliance to all safety protocols among students. Cases began to emerge from some high schools, of which over 200 personnel were immediately deployed to monitor and manage. With all incidents dealt with and no further cases emerging, students were able to complete their examinations successfully.
Religious institutions were allowed to hold congregations, with a maximum number of 100 persons, not exceeding an hour. The ban on weddings and funerals were also eased on, allowing a cap of 100 persons per event. The cap on persons allowed for religious congregations was later removed, with the duration being extended to two hours per meeting.
Public institutions such as the Electoral Commission (EC) and the National Identification Authority (NIA) were allowed to resume duties, following strict adherence to all safety protocols. The Electoral Commission as at August 6, 2020 had registered a total number of 16,663,669 persons and has currently began with its exhibition scheduled to end on September 25, 2020; spanning a total of 8 days. The NIA also has successfully registered 15,320,154 persons with the Ghana card as at September 9, 2020.
All political events relating to the general elections to be held on December 7, 2020 resumed, recent happenings being the NPP Primaries, acclamation of flag bearers of the NDC, NPP as well as other political parties and the launch of manifestos by the New Patriotic Party and then the National Democratic Congress.
As at September 23, 2020, Ghana’s active cases stand at 529 with 46,116 confirmed cases, 54 new cases, 297 deaths and 45, 290 recoveries. Ghana has, since March, experienced a gradual decrease in the number of infections. Death rate continues to be low at 0.5% as against a very high increase in recoveries with a current recovery rate pegged around 95.1%.
The government responded to this pandemic with a remarkable swiftness that is worthy of praise. They also did well to maintain consistency in communication, ensure transparency and accountability in the decision making process and clarity in policies to be implemented for the sake of Ghanaians
As laudable as their reaction to the pandemic is, the opposition could have partnered with the government, portraying unity to the people in these times and actually contributing to this fight, rather than inaugurating a separate team, giving the impression of a competition for public favour. This would have sent a great message to Ghanaians that in times of disaster and tragedies, politicians are capable of setting aside their differences and focusing on serving humanity.
The President demonstrated peace and unity in the fight against the menacing virus as he invited leaders from the various political parties for discussions on how they could collectively work together to tackle the virus.
His commendable leadership, coupled with his strategic management of the virus, is one that is believed to resonate deeply within the hearts and minds of the Ghanaian citizenry and many others across the world as they have realized and appreciated that it took the decisive, bold and visionary leadership of the President to steer the country out of stormy waters brought on by the coronavirus menace.
>>>The writer is Executive Director, Kandifo Institute. He can be reached on [email protected]