A few days ago, the President’s special advisor on health set off alarm bells nationwide by revealing government’s supposed projections that before the coronavirus pandemic releases Ghana from its deadly grip, some three million people – roughly one out of every ten Ghanaians – would have been infected and about 15,000 people would have lost their lives.
The projections however seem somewhat far-fetched. After two months of spread, and despite more testing than most other African countries, Ghana still has barely more than 1,000 confirmed cases and barely 10 deaths. It takes a stretch of the imagination to accept how those figures could rise so sharply, before the spread of the virus peaks and subsequently subsides.
This is why the conventional wisdom in response to the new forecast is that it is simply a ploy by government to scare people into observing the protocols required of them such as social distancing, regular sanitary actions and avoiding unnecessary movement from home. Indeed, this conspiracy theory goes further to allege that it is a precursor to the re-imposition of lock downs, this time tighter and further reaching.
This newspaper does not have the requisite facts to determine whether or not government is being deliberately alarmist as a strategy to secure the co-operation of the general populace in fighting the spread of the virus. Consequently we choose to risk erring on the side of caution, by accepting the forecasts as genuine.
We are aware that the original lock downs were lifted for economic reasons. But if the forecasts are real then economic considerations must take a back seat to public health considerations.
This however would require huge public spending on both a safety net for vulnerable people and to prevent thousands of small and micro-sized businesses from folding up with a consequent loss of millions of jobs and household livelihoods.
This newspaper therefore recommends that if the forecasts are genuine – and only government knows whether they are – then it should impose the tightest possible lock downs and bear the economic cost to its populace.
Already people are wondering why government would willingly spend some GHc17 billion – most of it borrowed – on a financial sector clean-up which effectively pays for the misconduct of a few financial institution owners and managers, but has voted just GHc1.2 billion on an economic stimulus meant to protect millions of vulnerable people.
Government needs to pull out all the stops to provide an economic safety net that would allow households and small businesses to survive an extended total lock down that stands between its citizens and the biggest death toll from a single source in its 63 year history.
This means diverting all available extra funding into such a safety net – for example the GHc2.5 billion in savings from the suspension of bilateral and multilateral official debt for 2020, as well as every pesewa in the official COVID 19 Trust Fund and all other private sector initiatives as well.
If necessary it would also mean doing another Eurobond issue for some US$2 billion, even under tightened financing terms. In short, the safety net must be established and applied, no matter the cost.
The alternatives are simple but unacceptable – the loss of 15,000 lives to coronavirus, because of inadequate measures to stem its spread; or the loss of millions of small businesses, jobs and livelihoods to a severe economic recession brought about by the requisite life-saving lock downs, but without adequate economic alleviation measures.