Widespread presumption prior to the president’s speech was that the parts of Ghana that were under lockdown, or even the whole of the country, were going to be forced into a more restrictive and extensive lockdown.
Akufo-Addo’s announcement thus came as a huge surprise even to his critics in opposition and the media. The sting of shock was palpable on social media as well.
Ghana’s confirmed cases of the coronavirus have actually risen ten folds since the lockdown was initiated. As things stand, the country’s Health Ministry is reporting 1042 cases, with 934 of them active.
Over 80% of these cases have been intra-communal infections, a dramatic turnover from just about six weeks ago when most of Ghana COVID-19 patients had come from outside the country.
The obvious cause for concern was not lost on Akufo-Addo who warned that lifting the lockdown was not permission for fully-fledged life in Ghana’s biggest cities, Accra and Kumasi to return.
“I must make it clear, at the outset, that lifting these restrictions does not mean we are letting our guard down. All other measures are still firmly in place,” said the 76-year-old.
This means that an earlier ban on gatherings in schools, churches and other social activities is still in effect. While strict hygienic practices have been promised in public transportation, employers are also urged to allow workers to work from home if possible.
People have also been encouraged to wash their hands regularly, use sanitizers and wear face masks.
But President Akufo-Addo was nonetheless desperate to put across the fact that his Sunday night decision was “backed by data and by science”.
He touted the fact that by the time he was speaking, Ghana had done over 60,000 tests. This places the country among the top category of nations that have done the most tests per million people.
Ghana’s contact tracing has also identified more than 86,000 people, among which 18,000 are waiting for their test results as of Sunday night. In all, the prevalence rate of the coronavitus among the tested in Ghana stands at 1.5%.
The president also brought up a 100-bed isolation center and hospital that is expected to be completed in the next six weeks. This is part of another improved effort to equip some 100 tuberculosis centers across the country to run COVID-19 tests.
Even though he has enjoyed popular support since he masterfully characterized the fight against the coronavirus as Ghanaian versus an unseen enemy, President Akufo-Addo’s most recent speech has sorely divided opinion.
The opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) fired their harshest criticism yet on Monday morning.
“What the President has essentially done, is to place political expediency ahead of public safety. And what that shows, is that human lives don’t matter to President Akufo-Addo,” wrote NDC’s fiery communications director, Sammy Gyamfi, in response to the president’s speech.
The NDC claims Akufo-Addo’s intentions are borne out of the ruling party’s intentions to rig presidential and parliamentary elections in December.
Ghana’s Electoral Commission (EC) has claimed that it needs to complete a new voters’ register in time for the December polls. But the lockdown and government-mandated social distancing have been inimical to the process.
Whatever the EC’s express plans, the NDC believes there is something more sinister. The president does not have just a political problem but a public health problem too.
As a result of the time lag in confirming new cases, the infection rate in Ghana is unknown. This means that in spite of the number of tests, the country is playing a dangerous game of catch-up.
Ghana’s economic successes over the last 10 years means that the country is also expanding the number of people in its middle-class brackets. The views of these mainly metropolitan-dwelling people shape public narratives in the country.
It is coherent with this logic therefore, that many within that class have scorned at the lifting of the lockdown while the many more in the inner-cities have rejoiced at the news.
In the aftermath of Akufo-Addo’s speech, videos of jubilation by underemployed youths in Greater Accra’s townships made their way on to Twitter. These videos were a stark contrast to the forlorn tweets posted by those within the professional middle-class.
What was clear was that one group of people are better prepared for a longer state of emergency in the hope of flattening the curve, as they have been told by experts. The other group cannot.
President Akufo-Addo seems to have taken a philosophical utilitarian decision – most Ghanaians are firmly lodged in the camp of those underemployed youth who jubilated on Sunday night.
But one eye would definitely be on the hit Ghana’s revenue has taken as well as the bloat in expenditure on pain-relieving measures for the populace.
President Akufo-Addo has taken a gamble the likes of Donald Trump have been looking to replicate.