COVID-19 seems to have become the world’s number one public enemy not only in the area of health, but also in almost all aspects of human endeavours. In other words, as a result of its broader implications and effects beyond the health sector, the disease has become one of the major sources of burden to the individual, families, the business community and indeed, governments all over the world. The pandemic has so far led to the loss of lives in the thousands; collapse of businesses and for that matter, job and income loss. In addition, it has also cost the global economy huge sums of money and investments. Besides the fatalities and the short to long term economic challenges the disease has foisted on humanity, it is also known to have increased social, emotional and psychological (SEP) distress on the individual and families. The SEP distress is even expected to go up in the days and months ahead if the rate of COVID-19 infections, death and associated fear and panic do not decline drastically. This trend is very worrying because SEP has huge potential for mental health though they are unfortunately and mostly not perceived as such until they progress and climax into psychotic and other serious psychological disorders.
On /your marks, get set, ready, Goonoo!!!
As the Ministry of Finance (MoF), the Bank of Ghana (BoG), and financial institutions roll out stimulus packages and the state prepares to ease some of the restrictions imposed as a result of COVID-19, life is expected to gradually return to normalcy in the not too distance future. In anticipation of the easing of some of the restrictions on businesses (hotels, drinking bars, pubs and night clubs etc.), religious activities and programs, ceremonies/parties and all forms of activities which have the potential to lead to the gathering of large number of persons, we must brace ourselves for either normal life or the ‘new normal’. Either way, my question to you is if you were the President or the person who has the final say in easing the restrictions, which of the measures will you maintain, relax or remove completely? Thus, which restrictions should be removed completely (in any), which ones should be lessened and which ones must not be touched until further notice. If all of us were given the opportunity to select our preferences in terms of which ones should be removed, lowered or maintained, we are likely to have different opinions and preferences. This is normal because the factors we will take into account in arriving at a decision will differ in one way or the other. Thus, whereas some will arrive at their decisions based on a critical objective analysis of the issues at hand (based on available facts), others may do so on the basis of personal or sectional interest, emotions or even on the basis of malice.
Varied interest and decision-making
For instance, when it comes to the resumption of schools, the Proprietors/ Proprietress and managers of Private schools in particular are likely to have different views from those who own or manage non-educational facilities. A similar scenario is likely to play out when it comes to the resumption of religious activities, reopening of entertainment centres and all the different businesses that have been affected in one way or the other by the restrictions. As a result of the varied and conflicting interest, the first most critical issue that must guide us as a nation in arriving at a decision should be the facts on the ground as far as infection rates are concerned, the nature of the spread, death rate, the conditions and categorisations (mild, severe, critical etc.) of those tested positive and any critical pattern that has been observed by the testing and the care centres. In the words of the President decision must be guided by science and facts. In addition to the empirical data, the next important factor that must be taken into account should be the protecting and saving of lives especially that of the innocent and vulnerable. Other relevant issues are the potential danger of resurgence, lessons from the lockdown especially in terms of adherence to the recommended protocols and ability of institutions (public, private, small, medium and large) to put the necessary measures in place and their respective capacities to exact compliance from staff, client/customers and the public.
Other relevant issues
Additional factors are availability and readiness of the required security agencies to ensure enforcement of the rules/measures to the letter, bread and butter issues and the general economic welfare of the majority of the populace, the nature of the specific measures rolled out for the new normal, lessons from other countries that have already lessened the restrictions, and to borrow from the Rotarians whether the measures/decision are/will be fair to all concern and whether it will be beneficial to all. Like any other public policy, the decision-makers have to weigh all the options, synthesis the relevant information, make some compromises and move on. In the end, some will be happy and smile, other will feel okay because they have been listened to, while some will be agitated or even get angry but as you and I know, there is no way everyone’s interest can be given the same weight and catered for at the same level. On the basis of the above, it will be very logical and prudent to put premium and weight on the scientific facts which includes the potential threat of increase or surge of spread and for that matter, measures to be put in place to save lives as number one. This should be followed by the economic factor as long as it also does not pose risk of increasing spread and therefore lessens pressure on the health and reduces fear and panic. What about the human factor?
The human factor and unpredictable citizens
When the scientific facts and the related medical issues are on tract then, the next critical issues is the human factor. This factor is very key even though it is usually not given the expected weight and it is even sometimes neglected. The essential issues includes the psychology of Ghanaians, our predominant thought processes, believe systems, level of discipline and propensity towards compliance taking cognisance of the recent past and our enforcement regime. We have to keep in mind that we can have the best scientific data coupled with the best measures in place at the workplace, schools, at the Chapel, Mosques, in commercial vehicles, the restaurants, sports stadium, the drinking bar, the night clubs and the other entertainment and business centres and markets, but if the individuals do not comply, not much could be achieved. For the purposes of this discussion and specific to compliance, I like to categorize the individual groups into two – those under institutional care for the greater part of the week days or twenty-four-hour cycle for a certain period during the year.
They include pupils and students who are made up of children and young adults. The other category is adults who are self- employed; work for private individuals or in private or public sectors.
Category one: Children and young adults
For most children up to primary/class six, you need to be on them every moment to ensure compliance with the safety protocols. For those in Junior High, Senior High and even at the Tertiary level, their energy level is so high that even though they will understand the issues better, compliance in terms of social and physical distancing, wearing of mask and others, will be a nightmare for teachers/masters and school administrators to handle. The energy levels and the zeal of these age groups to engage in social and other activities especially after teaching hours are such that it will be extremely difficult to control or manage them even at the boarding house especially with the huge numbers and limited dormitory and hostel facilities and space. For those at the Tertiary level the least said about them the better because of the level of freedom available to them. Any attempt to curtail their freedom at their point (though very legitimate and in their own interest) is likely to be either resisted with all the forces available to them or ignored at the blind side of school authorities. In short for now, resumption of school at all level should not be an option for at least the next three months. I am sure most parents have noticed that the frequency at which their children get cold and other contagious/communicable diseases have reduced drastically since schools were close down. Have you thought of the reason? – according to health professionals, one of the major reasons is that because school is not in session and other social gatherings have been bane, there is very little or no contact with others outside the homes.
Accepting the realities
My suggestion is that we should accept the fact that we have lost some months and would probably loss more, but in the process we have also saved precious lives of millions of Ghanaian who could have contracted the disease and even died if schools had not been closed down. On that basis we should work towards the resumption of school activities in somewhere August/September or even beyond and find ways to make up for those months we have lost. We will not lose too much even if we decide to forget these months and let every pupil and student progress to the next level except where there are specific required examinations such as Basic Education Certificate Examinations (BECE) West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations (WASSCE) and other external ones.
Hotels and other commercial establishment
For hotels, the reception area, the staircases rails and the door knobs and handles are among the areas to be watched. My view is that these can easily be managed – physical distancing at the front desk and regular cleaning of the rails, handles and knobs. Physical distancing for restaurants in general, drinking bars and pubs can be checked through seating arrangement but the same cannot be said for night clubs where rapturous dancing at nights is an integral part of the daily or weekend activities and programs. For the beaches, the issues are very tricky because even though space is not likely to be a problem enforcing physical distancing may be problematic especially when the holiday-makers are in their enthusiastic mode. For state and most private sector institutions, ensuring the protocols have so far been very good. They have ensured that their own staff and clients/customers have complied and those who failed/refused to comply are denied entry into the premises and were therefore not offered services. This has however not been the case with a majority of the informal sector. Some seem to have put monetary consideration ahead of everything including human lives hence their own compliance with the protocols have been very poor and therefore they have also not been able to insist that customers/clients strictly comply. The challenges some assemblies have had with market women/men, those in other commercial centres and lorry stations are typical examples.
Religious activities and services
For churches and the Mosques, the physical distancing in terms of seating arrangement can easily be controlled but that cannot be guaranteed for interactions before and after the services are over. What about Sunday school for children? I have seen elaborate plan/strategy by some religious groups on how they intend to manage and ensure adherence to the recommended protocols and for now, I will humbly plead that they exercise a bit of patience. In addition to controls before and after service how will the numbers be controlled in terms of who attend first, second or third service? If there are more numbers in one of the services, will the rest be asked to wait or go home and return later? Church service in particular for some persons is euphoric and ecstatic hence restrictions may be difficult to manage especially among the one-man, one-woman independent churches. A similar situation will also apply to funeral grounds hence it must for now be restricted to the private burial of twenty-five persons. On the basis of this my recommendation is that religious activities in terms of congregation services must still be suspended for at least two more months to allow for further assessment of the situation on the ground by the professionals.
My humble recommendations
Based on the above analysis my humble recommendations are;
- Almost all our public schools have large class size hence practicing social distancing in the classrooms will be practically impossible. Besides, practicing the other recommended protocols will be a form of organisational nightmare in terms of the required resources, facilities – water, soap, tissues, etc. for school managements.
- The Basic schools should remain close at least for the next three coming months while innovative, realistic and accessible ways should be found to gradually get JSH 3 and SHS 3 to either write their final examinations or compute grades based on previous/existing continuous and examination records to arrive at a reliable basis for their progression to the next level on the educational ladder.
- The plan put up is elaborate and good but human nature can make it unworkable/un-implementable
Though religion is part of the very core of Ghanaians, we do not necessarily have to congregate at the same place to sing praises, worship the Almighty and listen to the good news – let us continue to rely on technology – radio, television and social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Twitter and
- Instagram as well as virtual meeting applications like Skype and Zoom for now
- Very elaborate and strict enforcement regime must be put in place at hotels, entertainment and commercial centres to ensure that they do not add to the already existing challenges. They must be close down on the least violation
Like many others, I also appreciate the plight of private schools in particular but nothing is more important than human life. From a behavioural and more specifically psychological perspective, the human aspect is very crucial hence a delay of about three months for the rate of infection to reduce to the barest minimum before school and religious activities resume will help all of us. Examples from France, Huston, Texas of the United States of America (USA), and other countries, cities/towns which relaxed the restrictions in spite of the prevailing circumstances at the time suffered resurgence within days so let us take a cue from them and go it slowly. In the words of the President ‘we know how to bring the economy back to life. What we do not know is how to bring people back to life’ Your Excellency, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, as you are fully aware, the same people who are pushing for the resumption of schools and religious activities as well as funeral ceremonies as it was before covid-19 era, will be the same people who will turn around to accuse you of being responsible resurgence as a result of relaxing the restrictions. As I stated in one of my previous write-ups on lockdown, the buck stops with you.
God Bless Our Homeland Ghana.