COVID-19: Life must go on …when opening economy becomes a necessary evil

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During the three weeks lock down, I was able to manage to stay home for the first week. But after that, I had to arrange with my clients to meet me at my shop where I kept it locked, to avoid detection by the security, and cut their hair,” a barber at Gbawe, Accra, who pleaded anonymity said.

As Ghanaians patiently waited for the President to determine the fate of the country after a three-week lock down to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, expectations were that he would further extend the stay at home order. However, the President differed in opinion; to him, ‘whatever happens, life must go on’.

So contrary to expectations that he will extend the lock down, President Akufo-Addo directed that normal life must resume, to an extent at least. A decision that was met with mixed reactions. For some, like the barber mentioned earlier, despite the rise of the number of infected persons with the virus to more than a 1,000, dying of hunger is worse than dying of coronavirus.

But for those who are maybe overly concerned about the spread of the disease, and may probably still have enough money on them to feed for many months without going to work, feel there was the need for an extension or even a total lock down. For them anything economy can wait until the coronavirus infection curve flattens.

However, one fact remains bare. The lock down strategy is unfriendly to the Ghanaian system and by extension, the entire Sub-Saharan Africa, a fact the World Bank has underlined boldly. It even referred to such lock down measures as a copy-cat from well-structured advanced economies which are not practical in Africa.

For a country that is made of an economy with estimated 80-90 percent of businesses found in the informal sector; with a chunk of the population doing what is called hand-to-mouth jobs, there is no way an extended or total lock down will sit well with the people, if it is to protect their precious lives.

In fact, the President himself acknowledged that fact by saying due to the “severe impact on the poor and vulnerable,” he has to lift the restrictions on movement he imposed in Greater Accra and Kumasi metropolitan areas.

Truth be told, the President Akufo-Addo is caught up in a fix and he couldn’t have chosen any other option than what he announced. Even in the U.S – the world’s largest economy worth more than US$20 trillion – there are uprisings in some states calling for restrictions on lock downs to be lifted due to its effect on the socio-economic lives of people. How much more Ghana, a country with a GDP of just about US$66 billion, which is at risk of debt distress afford a total lock down?

Again, the deadly pandemic has hit economies so hard that even larger economies are tipped to get into recession. Sub-Saharan Africa is also projected to experience a contraction of 1.6 percent by the IMF. Ghana’s growth has also been revised down to 1.5 percent from its forecast of 6.3 percent by the Bretton Woods institution. This will be the lowest growth of the country in 37 years when it was plunged into a recession.

What is more, the initial cost of the deadly pandemic to the economy, which includes what the country will lose in terms of revenue and measures to contain the disease, according to the Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta, is estimated to be, at least, GH¢9.5 billion, representing 2.5 percent of GDP.

The country’s budget deficit, which was initially projected at 4.7 percent will also widen to 7.8 percent, a situation that has forced government to run back to the IMF for US$1 billion Rapid Credit Facility to cushion the economy of some of the shocks it will experience from the impact of the pandemic.

And with revenue mobilization being one of the major problems of this country, still because of the size of the informal sector, it is clear that government cannot keep people indoors and use the scarce resources of the nation to feed them. Even a few thousands that it tried to feed during the lock down proved unsuccessful and unsustainable.

The simple conclusion is that, government has no resources for an extended lock down. Hence, the only option was to open the economy for the poor to go and find their daily bread while encouraging people to observe preventive measures, namely, hand washing and sanitising, social distancing, prayers, among others, against the coronavirus pandemic. After all, life must go on!

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