Exactly a week ago, I announced the lifting of restrictions on movement of persons resident in Accra, Kumasi, Tema and Kasoa. I did so on the basis of the data and science, as well as on a careful analysis of the impact of the restrictions on several sectors of our population, especially our informal workers, who need to have a day out in order to provide for themselves and their families, the poor and the vulnerable.
Since I last spoke to you, we have completed the analysis of another thirty two thousand, and thirty one (32,031) samples, bringing the number of tests from sixty-eight thousand, five hundred and ninety-one (68,591) to one hundred thousand, six hundred and twenty two (100,622). From this pool, the total number of confirmed infections have gone from one thousand and forty-two (1,042), to one thousand, five hundred and fifty (1,550).
Our recoveries are now one hundred and fifty-five (155), and deaths eleven (11). The two (2) new cases of deaths, like the other nine (9), are all of persons with underlying health issues, what the doctors call comorbidity.
The positivity rate, i.e. the rate of infection from those sampled, continues to remain constant at 1.5%. Six (6) persons are critically ill, and the remaining one thousand, three hundred and seventy-eight (1,378) have mild or no symptoms at all, and are responding to treatment. Of the five hundred and eight (508) new confirmed cases, four hundred and sixty-five (465) are from the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area, ten (10) from Kasoa in the Central Region, seven (7) from the Ashanti Region, six (6) in the Eastern Region, two (2) in the Northern Region, one (1) in Western North, and seventeen (17) from the Oti Region.
These seventeen (17) were the result of interceptions near Nkwanta by officers of the Immigration Service and other security personnel of two (2) cargo vehicles that had on 2 board a total of sixty-seven (67) passengers, who were illegally entering the Region from Accra during the period of the ‘lockdown’, and all of whom were tested, with seventeen (17) proving positive. We are still very much in unchartered territory, and, clearly, we still have some way to go towards ridding ourselves of the virus.
The truth is that this will be a long war, broken up into several battles. Indeed, we registered a modest success in the important battle to trace and test many of the persons who had come into contact with infected persons, and we cannot, and will not rest on our laurels. We will not let our guard down, as the fight against this virus has to progress. We will pursue vigorously our strategy of enhanced 3Ts, i.e. tracing and testing to allow us identify infected persons, and isolating and treating them. It is the surest way to root out the virus.
Our efforts will remain constant, as will our abiding faith in the Almighty and our determination to defeat the virus. We must continue to be grateful to members of the media, members of our security forces, and our health workers for their sacrifice and high sense of patriotism in their contribution to the fight against the virus. The health workers, who are working day and night to care for the stricken, must continually be in our prayers.
Their efforts will be in vain if we, at home, do not support them. In addition to the incentive package given to all health workers, Government has enabled domestic production and supply of protective equipment to our health workers to increase significantly – they have received, in recent days, nine hundred and five thousand, and thirty-one (905,031) nose masks, thirty one thousand, six hundred and thirty (31,630) medical scrubs, thirty one thousand, four hundred and seventy-two (31,472) gowns, forty six thousand, eight hundred and seventy (46,870) head covers, and eighty three thousand, five hundred (83,500) N-95 face masks.
We are also grateful for yesterday’s gift of medical supplies from the government of the United States of America to help boost our testing capacity, the latest assistance we have received from a friendly foreign nation. So, let us, on our part, continue to protect further our health workers by practicing social distancing, washing our hands with soap under running water, refraining from shaking hands, and, yes, wearing our masks 3 whenever we leave our homes.
I am happy to note that the hardworking Minister for Health, Hon. Kwaku Agyemang Manu, Member of Parliament for Dormaa Central, has, as of yesterday, 25th April, 2020, issued directives to guide the production and mandatory wearing of face masks. We should all familiarize ourselves with them, and apply them, as the Regional Coordinating Councils of the Greater Accra, Ashanti and Central Regions are demanding of their residents.
Together, all these protocols will prove effective in helping each one of us to avoid contracting the virus. The doctors and scientists tell us that the virus is transmitted from human contact – talking, singing, coughing, sneezing, and, thereby, sending droplets of the virus from one person to another. That is why each one of us must adhere strictly to these directives.
Fellow Ghanaians, in the course of this past week, I engaged a number of stakeholders to discuss the future of existing measures which have imposed restrictions on public gatherings, shut down our schools, and closed our borders. I met with the Chairperson and Members of the Council of State, the President and Members of the Standing Committee of the National House of Chiefs, representatives of organised labour, i.e. the leadership of the Trades Union Congress, the leadership of the Christian Community, the leadership of the Muslim Community, the President and Executive Committee of the Ghana Medical Association, representatives and leaders of the Media, and the leadership of the National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS), and its affiliated associations.
The strong consensus that emerged from these and other consultations is that the existing measures must be maintained for now, until we have a firm grip on the movement of the virus. This consensus is supported by data and science, and I am also very much of this view. I have, accordingly, by Executive Instrument, extended for another two (2) weeks the suspension of all public and social gatherings, as set out in E.I 64 of 15th March, 2020, effective tomorrow, 1am, Monday, 27th April.
I am encouraged that so many of our trotros, taxis, and buses are operating with a minimal number of passengers, and our businesses and supermarkets are enforcing the need for social distancing, the use of hand sanitizers and the wearing of masks for all patrons and staff. I want to signal out supermarkets such as Melcom, Palace and Shoprite, in particular, for the 4 excellent discipline they are maintaining in their enterprises across the country, and call upon all other enterprises, especially our market women, to emulate them.
The example of markets in the Sekondi-Takoradi Metropolis, where social distancing is being well observed, is an excellent one for market women all over the country. I am fully aware of the sacrifices in reduced revenues that all businesses and enterprises are suffering. But, I believe we have no option but to sacrifice to defeat this virus.
This is the time for sacrifice, so that we do not have to bear a greater cost in the future. Unhappily, there continues to be the worrying news of a few Ghanaians aiding some West African nationals to enter our country illegally, despite the closure of our borders. Even more disturbing is the fact that several of the West Africans, who have been arrested, have later tested positive for the virus.
These are unpatriotic acts, and must stop. We cannot continue to allow a few persons, who are motivated by their own selfish, money-making interests, to endanger the lives of the rest of the population. Not only will persons who enter our country illegally be strictly dealt with, but so will Ghanaians who facilitate their entry. As I have said before, being a Ghanaian must mean that we look out for each other. Just as the virus has disrupted our daily lives, it has also exposed the deficiencies of our healthcare system, because of years of under-investment and neglect. Whilst maternal, new-born, adolescent health and nutrition remain our top priorities, we must pay increased attention to chronic, noncommunicable diseases such as heart diseases, diabetes and asthma, which have proved to be the common risk factors for the eleven (11) deaths we have recorded from the virus.
It has highlighted the need to address mental health issues, and the crucial role of emergency services, to which the new fleet of ambulances and drones are responding. We must emphasise preventive and promotive aspects of health, in addition to care for the sick. The virus has also revealed the unequal distribution of healthcare facilities, as we have tended to focus our infrastructure on Accra and one or two of our other big cities. But, as we have seen, epidemics and pandemics, when they emerge, can spread to any part of our country.
There are eighty-eight (88) districts in our country without district hospitals; we have six (6) new regions without regional hospitals; we do not have 5 infectious disease control centres dotted across the country, and we do not have enough testing and isolation centres for diseases like COVD-19. We must do something urgently about this. That is why Government has decided to undertake a major investment in our healthcare infrastructure, the largest in our history. We will, this year, begin constructing eighty-eight (88) hospitals in the districts without hospitals.
It will mean ten (10) in Ashanti, nine (9) in Volta, nine (9) in Central, eight (8) in Eastern, seven (7) in Greater Accra, seven (7) in Upper East, five (5) in Northern, five (5) in Oti, five (5) in Upper West, five (5) in Bono, four (4) in Western North, four (4) in Western, three (3) in Ahafo, three (3) in Savannah, two (2) in Bono East, and two (2) in North East Regions.
Each of them will be a quality, standard-design, one hundred bed hospital, with accommodation for doctors, nurses and other health workers, and the intention is to complete them within a year. We have also put in place plans for the construction of six (6) new regional hospitals in the six (6) new regions, and the rehabilitation of the EffiaNkwanta Hospital, in Sekondi, which is the regional hospital of the Western Region. We are going to beef up our existing laboratories and establish new ones across every region for testing. We will establish three (3) infectious disease control centres for each of the zones of our country, i.e. Coastal, Middle Belt and Northern, with the overall objective of setting up a Ghana Centre for Disease Control. The recent, tragic CSM outbreak, with over forty (40) deaths, has reaffirmed the need for ready access to such infectious disease control centres, even though, in our time, nobody should die of the disease.
Early reporting is what is required, and I implore everybody to heed this call. We shall make these investments in our healthcare system not because it is going to be easy, but because it is self-evidently necessary to serve the needs of 21st century Ghana. The three (3) Development Authorities, the Zongo Development Fund, and Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies will be tasked to place health infrastructure amongst their highest priorities in the coming years.
Soon, at the appropriate time, the exact volume of investment required will be duly and transparently laid out for public scrutiny and action. 6 It is obvious that, side by side with the investment in the physical infrastructure of our public health system, we will have to intensify our policies for the growth of our domestic pharmaceutical industry, so that we can generate our own medicines and medical supplies and products.
We should no longer be dependent on foreign imports. Further, the National Health Insurance Scheme is, currently, in a stronger position, as a result of the significant reduction in outstanding arrears. It is my hope and expectation that this expanded and empowered public health system will be the most enduring legacy of the pandemic. Universal health coverage in Ghana will, then, become real and meaningful, for every Ghanaian deserves good health and good healthcare.
Fellow Ghanaians, just as the Christian Celebration of Easter was severely affected by the virus, resulting in the cancellation of the usual activities associated with Easter, the Holy Month of Ramadan has not been spared either. It is my understanding that in the time of the Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Allayhi Wa’Salam, anytime there was heavy rain, he admonished the faithful, through the Azan, to stay in their houses and pray, rather than going to the mosques.
In Bukhari’s collection of the Hadith, Book 13, Hadith No. 24, Ibn Sirin reports that Ibn Abbas said to his muezzin, and I quote, “after saying ‘I testify that Muhammad is Allah’s messenger’, do not say, ‘come for the prayer’, but say, ‘pray in your houses’…It was done by one much better than I…” (that is the Prophet) Through analogical deduction, Muslim scholars agree that ‘rain’ represented danger, and, therefore, the prescription for Muslims to stay at home and pray in times of heavy rain is applicable to all life-threatening situations.
I, thus, call on all Muslims to heed this prophetic admonishment to pray at home, so we can protect ourselves from the danger of COVID-19. This is in line with the counsel of the wise, devout Muslim scholar, the Chief Imam, Sheikh Dr. Osman Nuhu Sharubutu. I wish all Muslims Ramadan Mubarak. In this period, let me state, once again, that the virus is the enemy and not one another. We must be resolute in our unity to defeat this invisible enemy. No country on earth has been spared the ravages of this virus, and my single-minded goal is how to steer the country out of this crisis, protect our 7 population from the virus, and see to the rebuilding of our economy. Nothing else matters for me. Fellow Ghanaians, we must now begin to lift our heads above the parapet, and look at our future with courage and hope. I shall be outlining, shortly, the path for bringing the restrictive measures, systematically, to an end, and defining the basket of measures for the revival and growth of our national economy. We have to own our future.
I am truly proud, and, indeed, humbled, to stand here today as your President, witnessing the unfettered assistance Ghanaians have given to each other, the help you have offered to those in need, the generosity of your contributions to the COVID-19 National Trust Fund, and the support and understanding you have given to the difficult measures Government has had to undertake.
It is said that out of adversity comes opportunity, and, through this ordeal, we, Ghanaians, have had the opportunity to re-introduce ourselves to one another, showing the best of who we are. The solidarity and humanity on display in these past days fills me with even more optimism that Ghana will overcome this crisis, and come out even stronger and more resilient.
This, too, shall pass! For the battle is the Lord’s. May God bless us all, and our homeland Ghana, and make her great and strong.
I thank you for your attention.