Professor Douglas Boateng’s thoughts …. Protecting our lives and livelihoods – face masks and social distancing is the new reality


By our very nature, humans are social beings. It therefore goes without saying that our interactions and relations with each other help us to navigate the ups and downs of our increasingly complex lives. These close interactions have been severely limited over the last few weeks as governments and societies at large have tried to prevent the ongoing spread of the latest novel Coronavirus – SAR-COV-2.

Since the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggested that transmission of the Coronavirus can occur through direct contact with infected people and indirect contact with surfaces or objects in the immediate environment, stringent social distancing and personal hygiene practices have been encouraged and in some cases enforced to reduce the spread of the virus.

Numerous examples of one infected individual passing the virus on to several people and starting a major outbreak have emerged. Peer reviewed scientific research has shown that it takes just one SAR-COV-2 carrier to innocently “super spread” the virus.

Indeed, between February and March 2020, a gathering at South Korea’s Shincheonji church accounted for over 50% of approximately ten thousand SAR-COV-2 infections in the country during that time. On May 9, President Nana Akufo Addo announced that one person had infected 533 people at a fish factory in Tema.

In the United States, Houston’s Holy Ghost Parish suspended masses on the May 19 after the death of a priest and the infection of five church members. On May 20, the CDC reported that over 30% of 92 people that attended church events in Arkansas during early March were infected with the Coronavirus. Three parishioners died and an additional 26 cases linked to the church spread into the community.

These examples illustrate the importance of select restrictions on large public, religious, social, workplace and educational gatherings during this global pandemic.

Prior to the arrival of SAR-COV-2 religious, workplace, educational and social gatherings, where people came into close contact with each other, were relatively harmless. This however is no longer the case.

As we come to terms with the new reality of living with SAR-COV-2, the ways that we group together to work, learn, worship, mourn, entertain, and socialise have drastically changed. Until there is herd immunity or a vaccination for SAR-COV-2 has been developed we will have to continue to keep our distance from each other and follow other independent authoritative guidelines related to hygiene enhancements and the wearing of face protection masks in order to minimise the spread of the virus.

Over time it has become apparent that SAR-COV-2 does not differentiate between the young and old. While COVID-19, the disease that emerges as a result of some SAR-COV-2 infections, has a greater negative impact on the aged and vulnerable, both young and old are susceptible to infection. As such, concerns related to the starting of schools and educational institutions are not unfounded.

In an educational setting, it will take just one asymptomatic child or student to innocently infect his or her class mates. Each one of these classmates can then “unintentionally transport” the Coronavirus home and pass it on to their parents, family members, friends, grandparents and their widespread community.

Although the banning or control of public gatherings at churches, funerals, sporting events and in workplaces and educational settings, etc. cannot continue indefinitely, governments rightly remain concerned about the consequences that a premature lifting of such restrictions could have on the aged and vulnerable in society.

Recent data from the WHO has reiterated the negative impact that SAR-COV-2 infection can have on the elderly and vulnerable in society – especially those with comorbid conditions. COVID-19 complications have proven to be more severe in elderly and vulnerable subgroups and fatality rates tend to be higher.

Data from John Hopkins University, Harvard, and many more experts illustrate the almost defencelessness of the elderly and people with comorbidities to the Coronavirus and WHO data indicates that more than 95% of COVID-19 related deaths occurred in people over the age of 60. Sweden’s experience of the SAR-COV-2 pandemic is a prime example of this with over 90% of all COVID-19 deaths occurring in people over 70 years of age.

In Ghana, the majority of the over 30 unfortunate fatalities were over 50 years of age. Based on these statistics, experts including Epidemiologist Professor Salim Abdool Karim, Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director Europe, US Presidential Advisor on COVID-19 and Director of NIAID, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Sarkodie from the Ghana Health Service, UK’s Secretary of State for Health and Social Welfare Matt Hancock and others have opined that the older generation are the most vulnerable to the worst effects of the COVID-19 disease and should therefore be particularly protected from the virus.

Based on the above evidence and data, it may be worth suggesting that even once current social gathering restrictions start to relax, the aged and vulnerable in our society should seriously consider limiting their presence at such gatherings until such a time that decision makers for social, religious, educational and organisational gatherings accept full responsibility to: improve ventilation in their respective environs; undertake to regularly clean and disinfect their grounds; accept and enforce the significant reduction of group sizes; enforce the strict wearing of face protection masks; maintain social distancing of at least 1.5 meters in massed areas; and provide hand sanitizers.

Experts including the University of Massachusetts’ Professor Erin Bromage, George Washington University Professor Jonathan Renier and NHS Professor Powys rightly predict that unless humanity adapts to the new forms of interactions and strictly adhere to the proven WHO guidelines, the Coronavirus will continue with its rampant spread within the global community. Related to this, on May 25, Dr. Ryan executive director of the WHO insisted that although infection rates are declining there could be a second peak during this phase if countries let up restrictions too soon.

As of May 28, 2020, unfortunate fatalities globally and in Africa as a percentage of recorded infections remained just below 7% and 3% respectively. In Ghana the fatality rate is currently sitting below 0.50%.

Although current data clearly indicates that the majority of “infectants” will fully recover, it remains essential that we continue to respect the containment guidelines, various red alerts for patience, and calls for mindset and behavioural change from leaders including President Nana Akufo Addo, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, UN Secretary General António Guterres, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, South Africa’s President Ramaphosa, South Korea’s Prime minister Chung Sye-kyun, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, some local and international experts and policy makers including, Epidemiologist Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim, Information Minister Hon Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, South Africa’s Health Minister Dr. Zweli Mkhize, US Presidential Advisor on COVID-19, Dr. Deborah Birx, Presidential Health Advisor Dr. Nsiah Asare, UK Medical Director and Director of Health Protection for Public Health, Professor Doyle, Ghana’s Health Minister Hon Agyeman Manu, Director General-Ghana Health Service, Dr. Kuma-Aboagye, the local and global medical fraternity, some interfaith leaders and the scientific fraternity.

Reducing infection and fatality rates is largely dependent on our commitment to take responsibility for our actions and behaviours and remain vigilant and aware of the threat of transmission. As governments look for ways to strengthen public health infrastructure and interventions to cope with living with the virus, balance the need to protect lives and livelihoods, and prepare for a possible “round two” of this complicated pandemic, the onus is on each one of us to ensure that we protect one another by respecting the clearly laid down WHO guidelines and adapting to our rapidly evolving new reality.


Professor Douglas Boateng is an international chartered director and Africa’s first ever appointed Professor Extraordinaire for Industrialisation and Supply Chain Governance.

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