All around the world the ongoing trend is that national governments are lifting their restrictions on the movement of people – generally known as lock downs – in response to the demands of the general populace in most places who are being pressured by economic considerations or at least are simply fed up with having to stay at home. National governments who are looking with dismay at the economic data being generated, which invariably indicate sharp economic growth slow downs and equally sharp increases in unemployment are using those demands as reason to lift the lock downs and get their respective national economies working again.
In Ghana not only is government also looking at the economic data – it is also monitoring the national mood ahead of crucial general elections slated for later this year. This is encouraging it to remove social restrictions – such as the suspension of religious events and schooling – as well as economic ones.
Meanwhile, the medical community, backed largely by the media, who are about the only ones listening to the experts in this regard right now, continue to warn that the lifting of restrictions has the potential to increase the rate of infection again. But very few people are listening to those warnings right now.
Here in Ghana, the country has so far got off quite well. After three months of having to deal with the arrival of coronavirus, confirmed cases are still well below 11,000 and deaths are still below 50.
This has given Ghanaians a sense of complacency which could be dangerous. The lifting of a lockdown on COVID 19’s epi-centres after just three weeks has given many Ghanaians the erroneous belief that the worst is behind us.
However we would like to warn Ghana’s government, that while accepting the verdict of human society worldwide, that they value their socio-economic freedom above their health, it must consider this country’s peculiar circumstances. Most especially it must consider that our medical response capabilities are nowhere near those of the developed economies. What has kept Ghana from a medical disaster so far has been government’s prudent policies in containing the virus, the prudence of millions of Ghanaians – for instance in using masks – and sheer blind luck ( or as the religiously faithful would put it, the mercy of God).
It is however instructive that some key medical facilities in the effort to isolate and treat confirmed cases of COVID 19 infection are already warning that they are running out of capacity.
But we must not take things for granted. Ghana does not rank as high as the western hemisphere countries with regards to individual freedoms, which is not a good thing in normal circumstances. In the current, most unusual circumstances however, the long standing tendency of Ghana’s authorities to be excessively authoritarian, can be put to good use, for the ultimate benefit of the general public.
In the current circumstances, we would willingly forgive government for being authoritarian in devising and enforcing policies and codes of conduct that curtail the spread of the virus. For instance the police should be allowed to ruthlessly punish people who refuse to abide by the latest presidential directive on the compulsory use of face masks – at just GHc2 for a mask, poverty cannot be an excuse for non-compliance.
We believe that when the dust eventually settles, even critics of government’s hard -nosed policies for curtailing the spread off the infection would turn around and say thank you.