Close your eyes for a moment and think yourself as the President of the Republic. Forget all the fame and glory that come with it because these are no normal times. Rather, see yourself as making a choice between life and death. i.e., facing a decision of lifting restrictions on social gatherings including schools and religious activities amidst increasing cases of the coronavirus pandemic, or extending the restrictions to contain the rapid spread of the virus. What will you do?
Well, that is the choice President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has to make over the weekend. It is a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea – both are unpleasant. On the face of it, many will simplify it by saying the President should put the safety of the people first and extend the ban till there is a vaccine. That, ideally, is the best solution. But, it is not as simple as that. There are many strings attached to lifting the restrictions.
Note that the President’s restrictions have effectively closed down schools, hotels, churches, drinking bars, event centres, and all other places where large number of people gather together. Besides these, the restrictions have affected all ancillary services attached to these businesses. Caterers, event planners, fashion designers, beauticians, hair dressers, food vendors in schools, graphic designers and many more occupations have also ground to a halt. What it means is that, people have lost their sources of income and livelihoods due to the restrictions on social gatherings.
For example, consider the case of one caterer, Ruth Ackom, owner of Rutbed Catering Services in Mallam-Gbawe, a suburb of Accra. She told B&FT in April that the restrictions have eventually rendered her unemployed. Ever since its introduction in March, not even a single order has come through as there are no weddings, funerals, and other parties hosted anywhere.
Gabriel, a private school teacher in Accra, who has four dependents – his mother, two nephews and a niece – says apart from March when his school paid salaries, the teachers have been told not to expect anything called money until after schools have resumed. The same or similar information has been given to almost every private school teacher in Accra. The private schools are calling for government support in the form of stimulus, just as has been given to other businesses, else the schools will find it difficult to survive even after the restrictions are lifted.
As for the hospitality industry, the least talk about, the better. The pandemic has devastated the industry like no other. Workers have been laid off, others have been asked to go home on mandatory leaves without any salary as the hotels are no longer open for business. Millions of Ghana cedis have been lost due to the impact of the pandemic.
The aviation industry also says the closure of borders has also resulted in over 90 percent revenue loss to the sector. Players, including the regulator, in the industry have asked staff to proceed on unpaid leave; and non-critical projects have been suspended to cut cost.
Then, there is also the cry of the clergy and church goers. Leaders of Christendom have constantly been on the neck of the President to lift the ban. They have even taken it a step further by outlining some measures they will take to ensure preventive protocols such hand washing, social distancing, among others, are observed by all if they are allowed to congregate together. Their main cry, which is not being publicly admitted, is that their source of revenue, i.e., offertories and tithes from believers have ceased coming in since March when the restrictions took effect.
Put simply, the coronavirus pandemic has come to render a large number of the people unemployed, slashed the income of others, slowed business activities, and in some extreme situations, plunged some into poverty. Some families and individuals have taken the unpleasant decision of moving to the village where standard of living is lower. So, for people like these, the restrictions should be lifted, damn the consequences.
That is not all. On the political front, the restrictions have affected players negatively. All rallies and large gatherings of any political nature have also been suspended. This essentially means that, even President Akufo-Addo’s re-election bid for a second four-year term is in limbo as his party’s constitution requires, he is elected by party delegates before he could stand as the flagbearer come December 7, 2020.
But all these are just one side of the argument. There are also a large number of Ghanaians who, although are affected negatively by the restrictions, are deeply concerned about the safety of people, especially taking into consideration that the number of cases has skyrocketed to more than 7,300 as of today, Friday May 29, 2020.
Some are even blaming the President’s decision for not extending the lockdown beyond the three weeks as the main cause of the recent high number of recorded cases. Therefore, to lift restrictions on social gatherings, for them, would be akin to the President leading the whole country to the slaughter house.
Some experts have been moved to sound a message of caution to the President to desist from lifting the entire ban. Former Rector of the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA), Prof. Stephen Adei, has warned against a wholesale lifting of the restrictions, urging the President to only allow final year students to go back to school should he lift it.
For parents, the thought of seeing their young children go to school in the midst of such a deadly pandemic is sickening and unthinkable. In fact, most parents have decided they will not take their kids to school if the restrictions are lifted this weekend. For them, it is better to delay their children’s education to save their lives, than to see them go to school and contract a disease which will threaten their survival and, possibly, send them to their early graves.
If there was any time that world leaders wished never occurred in history, then, it is certainly be the year 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered all gains made by any government. For Nana Addo-Dankwa Akufo-Addo, it will be a hit or miss decision for him this weekend. If he lifts the ban, it will hasten economic recovery by bringing back lost jobs and livelihoods of many. But at the same time, it could also endanger the health and lives of all, including school children. Obviously, it is not a good time to be President at all.
What decision, then, will the President make? Well, over to you, Mr. President!