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Opinions Tue, 7 Apr 2020

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Fighting Coronavirus: The skeptical Ghanaian surfaces

It is to be expected that the fear of contracting the fast-spreading and deadly novel Coronavirus would be enough motivation for residents of our dear republic to abide by the government’s announced partial lockdown of areas deemed to be hotspots for the spread of the disease.

After all, the disease has already claimed 5 lives with 214 confirmed cases in six out of 16 regions in the country.

Unfortunately, residents of Kasoa, Greater Accra Metropolitan Area, Tema and Kumasi do not seem to be interested in doing the one thing that has been crucial to reversing the spread of the disease in other jurisdictions; stay home.

The decision to enforce a partial lockdown in the areas mentioned above was taken after several calls from groups like the Ghana Medical Association (GMA) and the Trades Union Congress (TUC). At the time the calls were being made, the case count in Ghana was on the increase and there were intensified fears of community spread.

The GMA felt the lockdown would be necessary to curtail spread as well as make it easier for random testing and easy identification and containment of cases.

In response to the calls, President Nana Akufo-Addo announced a partial lock down with a 48 hours grace period for residents of the affected areas to prepare as well as for the government to educate the residents on what is expected of them.

However, it seems the public in these areas are yet to come to terms the expectations of the partial lockdown and the disease, which has now claimed close to 60,000 lives and infected over a million people worldwide. The disease has also brought the World’s super powers to their knees. Despite the knowledge of this global threat, Ghanaians remain complacent.

I recall the first day of the beginning of the temporary lockdown, I had dressed up to go to Kasoa to assess the level of compliance from my fellow residents. A neighbour who encountered me, queried me on where I was headed. I told her about my destination and mission but she was of the opinion that I returned home as part of safety measures.

I understood her concern but I had a job to do as a journalist whose services are crucial at this time so I trudged on.

I was shocked when I arrived at the Kasoa market. To my utter shock and dismay, the Kasoa old market was alive with little or no form of social distancing being observed. It felt like business as usual.

Despite my emotions, I went about my duties as diligently as I could. Having written my story for publication, I decided to make random checks to ascertain whether the situation was different in other places. One of the friends with whom I interacted informed me that the situation was no different at Kasoa New Market.

Let me confess that I have always been skeptical of the lockdown. I wondered at the time as I do now, whether the Ghanaians who backed the calls for a lockdown, understood what they were calling for or appreciated the implications of a lockdown.

I was and remain confident that the government through the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE), will undertake the education necessary to ensure the residents understood and abide by the lockdown protocols.

There were commendations and solidarity from various groups and institutions when the partial lockdown was announced as it was felt, it was a necessary evil. There were members of the public in these areas who saw the lockdown as a well deserved vacation and afforded them time to be with their households.

The narrative has since changed among some members of the general populace half way into a 14 day partial lockdown as they seek a way out of their rooms and return to their normal lives.

The typical Ghanaian

Ghanaians are known to be hospitable people, hardworking with open-arms approach to everything. The average Ghanaian is very religious, quick to criticise anything they consider wrong as everybody’s business is everybody’s business.

Like a typical African, we are always afraid of the worst and so we raise an alarm at the first sense of danger and never hold back on their misgivings.

For instance, history has it that during the 1983 famine in Ghana people hoarded their produce and sold it at expensive prices to consumers.

It is said that period saw changes in social attitudes in the country; in that, pre-1983 hosts were often offended when guests turned down food but that changed as people hid food.

The coronavirus pandemic seems to be having the same effect as people and households hoard food and those who are unable to afford ration their food in order to manage their limited supplies. The poor have limited meals to breakfast and dinner or in some cases just dinner alone.

Also, the events of the solar eclipse in 2006 revealed that no matter how intensive the education or sensitisation campaign on an event, most people would remain skeptical about the event while others would simply not be bothered.

In the same way, people remain skeptical about the existence of the novel coronavirus despite the abundance of evidence and of course, there are those who are not bothered about the consequences hence have ignored several calls for social distancing and observation of preventive measures.

These kinds of attitudes have been evident and contributed to the Ga East Municipal Chief Executive, Janet Tulasi Mensah ordering the closure of the Dome market. She said she was forced to take decision because traders and patrons alike were failing to adhere to the lockdown arrangements on social distancing.

According to Modern Ghana, the leadership of the market told the MCE they tried their best to enforce the social distancing protocols but to no avail.

Lack of basic understanding

Since the world became aware of the COVID-19 and its subsequent spread to Ghana, there has been a consequent spread of misinformation. In some cases there has been inconsistencies and swift changes in the sort of advice experts have given to the public. An example is the advice against the wearing of gloves which has subsequently been revised, with the public now advised to wear masks.

The challenge is the manner in which this advice is being followed.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) advises that before putting on a mask, one should clean the hands first with alcohol based hand rub or wash with soap and water. Having done so, the nose and mouth should be covered with the mask while ensuring that there are no gaps between the face and the mask. Also the mask should be replaced with a new one as soon as it is dampnoting that the mask should not be re-used.

Although the average Ghanaian understands that the use of the mask could help in a way, majority of persons just ignore the instructions that come with it.

People wear gloves for almost 24hrs.

They hold currencies, touch their face with it, touch surfaces of objects and other people with it and still hold the misconception that they are protected from the virus.

The other misconceptions have been that of the fact that garlic, ginger and other local remedies can cure the disease.

No need to give up

The reason for consistent, unabated education and enforcement is to deal with these shortcomings, misconceptions and misinformation. The enforcement is aimed at ensuring that unhelpful attitudes and behaviours do not work against the interest of the general populace.

No matter what happens, the collective interest of the general populace must be supreme and safeguarded under every circumstance.

Education and sensitisation must be intensified and misinformation proactively dealt with.

This disease would significantly change our way of life.

Columnist: Isabella Agyakwa

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