Coronavirus: Ghana revokes the lockdown

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Fulvio Beltrami

Fulvio Beltrami
Originario del Nord Italia, sposato con un'africana, da dieci anni vivo in Africa, prima a Nairobi ora a Kampala. Ho lavorato nell’ambito degli aiuti umanitari in vari paesi dell'Africa e dell'Asia.
Da qualche anno ho deciso di condividere la mia conoscenza della Regione dei Grandi Laghi (Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, ed Est del Congo RDC) scrivendo articoli sulla regione pubblicati in vari siti web di informazione, come Dillinger, FaiNotizia, African Voices. Dal 2007 ho iniziato la mia carriera professionale come reporter per l’Africa Orientale e Occidentale per L’Indro.
Le fonti delle notizie sono accuratamente scelte tra i mass media regionali, fonti dirette e testimonianze. Un'accurata ricerca dei contesti storici, culturali, sociali e politici è alla base di ogni articolo.

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Frammenti Africani

Apr 24

Coronavirus: Ghana revokes the lockdown

Despite WHO contrary opinion, and in dispute with the Organization, the President Nana Akufo-Addo has decided to reopen the country, in fear of riots of the weaker part of the society that thrives on an informal economy

di Fulvio Beltrami

coronavirus, ghana, nana akufo-addo, lockdown

 FULVIO BELTRAMI ON 24/04/2020

In Africa, the lockdown option to contain Covid-19 coronavirus infection is not possible for most countries. This is due to the widespread misery and the high percentage of precarious workers who thrive on daily income. Nine nations have only adopted the lockdown: Algeria, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Morocco, Tunisia, Rwanda, South Africa and Uganda.

The latter two seem to risk unrest if not serious popular uprisings, given that the social tensions preceding the pandemic are exacerbated by confinement at home, a measure experienced by most of the population as a form of 'house arrest'. Also in Nigeria the risk of social uprisings is tangible, as is the risk of a resumption of the terrorist acts of Boko Haram, recently very active in Chad.

Ghana is the first African Country to lift the lockdown, despite the contrary opinion of the World Health Organization (WHO) and 1,154 full-blown cases, including 9 dead. This was decided by the President, Nana Akufo-Addo, on Tuesday April 21st.

The decision is based on two considerations.

The first. The low percentage of infected (0.0038% of the total population) and deaths recorded so far is considered insufficient to justify blocking an entire country.

The second. The WHO councils must remain such, even if taken seriously, but it is up to the Ministries of Health of each Country to decide the most suitable policies to contain the pandemic. Policies that must be implemented with determination, but in full respect of the combination: health-economy.

If in order to protect the population from the risk of infection, the national economy is destroyed, the same population will starve once the epidemic passes, while the government will be forced into debt and run the risk of popular uprisings.

These considerations - along the lines, it seems, of Donald Trump's rather than Jair Bolsonaro's policy - have been the basis of the health choices of many African countries, which - more or less due to the internal situation - have chosen or have been forced to choose alternative policies to the lockdown.

Ghana is well aware of the economic risks which become secondary effects of the pandemic and which are destined to influence the future of the country. In Morocco, the effects of the lockdown on production are as catastrophic as the epidemic itself. 142,000 Moroccan firms (equivalent to 57% of domestic firms) have stopped operations permanently or temporarily, according to an official investigation published Wednesday April 22nd. This dramatic situation had an immediate impact on the occupation. Since the start of the lockdown, the government has registered 726,000 requests for financial assistance from Social Security, corresponding to the jobs lost.

The situation in the informal sector is more dramatic, which in Morocco (as in other African Countries) represents 80% of the national workforce. The government does not have data on the impact of the lockdown on the informal sector, but hypothesizes that three quarters of them are unable to carry out occasional jobs or street trade and are without revenue. Unsustainable situation as these informal workers do not benefit from any social coverage. The risk of an Arab Spring in Morocco in the post Coronavirus is very high, according to some observers. Information that at the moment it was not possible to verify.

Ghana has decided that it does not want to face a similar situation, with the risk of widespread popular revolts that would compromise the stability and social peace that has lasted since independence. There would be frictions between the Accra government and the WHO, accused of wanting in some way to impose uncontested health policies. In practice, Ghana has chosen to dissociate itself from the WHO experts, accused of having assumed a 'decision-making role' which does not belong to the organization.

The government believes that the ability to track and identify people who have been in contact with the 'positives' has increased in the country. Greater diagnostic tests and traceability, combined with the opening of virus treatment centers modeled on Ebola treatment centers or other infectious diseases, has allowed the population to return to normal life. At the moment the lockdown has been lifted both in the capital (Accra) and in Kumasi, the second largest city in the country. Next week it will be revoked on the whole national territory. Borders will remain closed for the time being, as will all schools.

The government has also invested in the use of drones to speed up the delivery of rapid test samples to achieve results in the shortest possible time. It also increased local mask production and introduced a tracking app.

«It's called GH COVID-19 Tracker App. An app in multiple languages ​​ that will be available on the IOS and Android platforms but (apparently) not accessible for iPhones. It will help, through telephone numbers and the GPS system, the tracking of people who have recently arrived in the country or who have recently traveled abroad in order to also know who they have come into contact with. So, the app will help in screeming and testing it." explains journalist Antonella Sinopoli in her blog Ghanaway (and other stories from Africa). Ghana is among the African countries that have carried out the most Covid19 tests: 68,000 out of the total of 30 million inhabitants.

This health policy has raised criticism from some sections of the population, there is a fear that the infection will grow, despite the preventive hygiene measures - mandatory use of masks in public and respect for social distance - remain key points of the strategy against coronavirus from the Ghanaian Ministry of Health. It is feared that the President's decision will undermine all the virus containment efforts carried out so far and that a second wave of infections will be favored, far greater than the first.

The criticisms and fears come from the upper-middle class of Ghanaian society, from university students (mostly sons of this same social class), and from a not negligible percentage of doctors and nurses. The majority of the population, the one who lives from informal work in the first place, on the contrary fully approves the President's decision, while scrupulously respecting the hygiene prevention measures, made mandatory by the Government.

Opposition parties have opposed the President's decision, stating that the withdrawal of confinement at this crucial moment of the epidemic is a political hazard that could endanger the nation. Among the toughest opponents is John Mahama, President of the NDC (National Democratic Congress), the main opposition party.

"Our decision is dictated by a better understanding of the nature of the virus, by the success in containing the spread, by an enhanced test program and by the expansion of the isolation and treatment centers. Our government has the opportunity to try to contain the spread of the virus, effectively expand the search for people who had come into contact with infected people, test them and keep only those who are positive in quarantine. Eliminating some restrictions does not mean that we are lowering our guard ». This is the President's press release, aimed at reassuring the population.

Nana Akufo-Addo's decision will be monitored closely by all African countries. If there are no contagion peaks in the coming weeks, the President of the country among the most democratic and respectful of the civil liberties of the continent will have been right to lift the lockdown, confirming the choice of other African countries to implement it partially (evening curfew) or not apply it at all. It would also be a partial first denial of the catastrophic predictions of the WHO, but not only, also of realities such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which speak of 'African coronavirus holocaust'.

But what if that of the President really turned out to be a gamble?

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