COVID-19: John Mahama writes

Reports that the virus has spread to the Chamber and offices of Parliament is very disturbing. It adds to the urgency of the situation we face as a country, and while it is important to give hope to citizens it is absolutely necessary to be transparent and communicate the full picture of the extent of the disease.

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As we prepare for the weekend and a new month, I want to take this opportunity to remind each and every one that the COVID-19 pandemic is real. We must continue to take responsibility for our individual and collective safety.

How do you stay safe? Avoid crowded places and wash your hands regularly, with soap and under running water. As infections continue to rise, there appears to be a relaxation among many people when it comes to keeping to the protocols, even in shopping centres, markets and other heavy human traffic locations. Let’s continue to take the necessary precautions and stay safe.

Even when you are just two or three people seated, please ensure that there is enough physical distancing between you. Do not touch commonly used surfaces and when you do, sanitize your hands or wash them. But more importantly is the wearing of face masks anytime you decide to step out.

Ensure that the next person sitting away from you, or talking to you is wearing a mask too. For those who have re-usable masks, remember to soak and wash them in soapy water and press with a hot iron every day.

As of this morning, 29th May, 2020, the number of confirmed positive cases stands at 7,362, with 32 deaths. While the 2,412 total recoveries is welcome news, it is also evident from the latest data that the virus is still spreading, and across the country.

Reports that the virus has spread to the Chamber and offices of Parliament is very disturbing. It adds to the urgency of the situation we face as a country, and while it is important to give hope to citizens it is absolutely necessary to be transparent and communicate the full picture of the extent of the disease.

Government has unfortunately not managed public education on coronavirus efficiently, while the latest communication creates the false impression that all is well with the management and spread of the disease. The advice from the President and other government officials that we should begin to learn to live with the disease suggests that you and I must take our destiny into our own hands as far as COVID-19 is concerned.

This is coming at a time that public education on the disease has dwindled to the extent that observance of hygiene and distancing protocols, as I indicated earlier, appear to be waning.

The benefit of wearing face masks at this time is obvious, and I reiterate my call on government to utilize some of the funds from the Stabilization Fund and the IMF to enhance local production and free distribution of re-usable face masks to especially vulnerable communities and groups.

These funds voted by parliament are meant primarily to be used to contain the spread of the virus and the free distribution of masks is essential at this time.

The absence of an effective mass education programme has contributed to the avoidable stigmatization of our brothers and sisters who have recovered from the infection. I invite all of you fellow citizens to join me in celebrating all who have recovered from the disease and I urge our traditional, community and faith leaders to assist the authorities in reintegrating them with their families.

Government’s refusal to involve traditional rulers and Assembly members in the education and management of the disease has been a big gap in our National Response Plan.

Government must set aside some funds to assist those who have lost their means of livelihood and places of abode as a result of stigmatization.

Meanwhile, in the face of the imminent easing of restrictions, let me repeat the call on government to consider conducting mass testing, at least, at the point of need. What it means is that for instance all students, teachers, and ancillary staff returning to school or church attendants, following the easing of restrictions, should undergo a mandatory COVID-19 test as a safety precaution.

Government has accumulated enough resources in the name of COVID-19 to be able to fund a mass testing, even if it has to rely on private laboratories; for the sake of the life and health of Ghanaians.

I must indicate here my support for the position of the various teacher unions and parents who have spoken and cautioned against the hasty reopening of schools. Government must pay close attention and take into consideration, the concerns of the various unions and parents.

Finally, as I have always said, any decision taken by government to ease restrictions must be based on the utmost respect for human life and the science of the disease we are dealing with.

Decisions based on false premises will have grave consequences for us all, Ghanaians.

My party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), congratulates once again, all our health workers, still at the frontline of the fight against the coronavirus. Ghanaians truly appreciate your sacrifices, and you can be assured that your commitment and sacrifice will never be forgotten.

Enjoy the weekend and God bless our homeland Ghana.

John Mahama is the former President of Ghana (2012-2017).