Fighting Back: Lessons Learned from Ghana’s Battle Against COVID-19
There is one certainty in these uncertain times: no country will emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic unscathed. Countries cannot escape both the pandemic’s heavy toll on health care systems and its impact on the economy. In Ghana, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth is expected to fall from a target of 6.8 percent to about 2.6 percent in 2020 as a result of COVID-19.[i]
On March 12th, 2020, Ghana recorded its first two cases of COVID-19. In response, the government introduced measures to contain the spread of the virus and to lessen the negative impact on the economy. At the time of writing, mid-July 2020, Ghana has 22,822 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 17,564 recoveries and 129 deaths.[ii]
Ghana’s government reacted quickly and practically to the pandemic, an approach that can serve as an example in the exchange of lessons learned between states. The country undertook a timely closure of borders, targeted lockdowns in epicenters, and enhanced contact tracing. This was made possible by allowing experts to lead the discussions and by taking into account local factors and developments.
Lesson 1: Timely and bold measures pay off
After the first two imported cases, the government moved swiftly to close all borders—air, land and sea—and only permitted Ghanaians arriving from countries with less than 200 cases to return home. All travelers were subjected to fourteen days of mandatory quarantine, during which they were tested for the virus. Those who tested positive were isolated for treatment.
A team of health personnel was tasked with contact tracing for the first two cases. The infected people were asked who they had engaged with since arriving in the country. Telecommunication companies provided mobile numbers of all those contacts. These were the first steps towards testing large numbers and enhanced contact tracing in the country.
Shortly after, the state announced a ban on all social gatherings.[iii] Schools, churches, pubs, and conference activities were closed or cancelled. These restrictions were necessary to stop community infection of the virus. The ramifications have nonetheless been dire, with businesses in the hospitality and tourism industry taking a big hit.[iv] Ghanaians had to learn to cope with things they had never been able to imagine — such as not having large funeral gatherings. Mortuaries are full, not due to deaths from COVID-19, but because private burial is not popular in Ghanaian culture.
The partial lockdowns in Accra, the nation’s capital, and Kumasi, the second most industrious city, were the toughest decisions in Ghana’s fight against COVID-19. A lockdown in these cities meant pressing pause on the country’s economic heartbeat. Economic activities came to a standstill, leaving the normally busy streets of Accra empty. Ghanaians had to stay home to prevent the spread of the virus and to save lives.
The choice was explained by the president, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, in saying “We know how to bring the economy back to life. What we do not know is how to bring people back to life“.
Decisive measures have been helpful in Ghana’s fight against COVID-19. Countries that have no recorded cases yet, if there are any, should act boldly to take early measures even if they come at a cost to the economy. Governments should consider saving lives first before taking measures to revive the economy. A delayed or overcautious reaction might be more costly in the long term, not only from the health perspective, but also economically.
Lesson 2: A data-based emergence from lockdown
The World Health Organization (WHO) has established six conditions that should be met before lifting lockdowns.[v] Ghana did not meet all six conditions before lifting the restrictions on movement in the two epicenters of the virus.[vi] The decision to reopen was, however, informed by expert advice based on a sound understanding of the data regarding the country’s cases. The infection rate was low and had been contained within the cities that had recorded cases.
Easing restrictions on lockdowns is risky because it can spark a second wave of infections if not carefully managed.[vii] Yet the economic implications of lockdowns mean that they cannot be imposed for excessively long periods. There must be an exit strategy. Ghana has shown that it is important to understand the trajectory of the virus in the country—the rate of spread of the virus, data on recorded cases, and the demographics of the people—in order to succeed at this balancing act. Every country’s situation is different, and Ghana relied on its COVID-19 data to arrive at its decision, allowing the country to take well-informed decisions.
Lesson 3: Saving livelihoods and sustaining the economy
Governments are relying on expansionary fiscal policy to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fiscal policy can be targeted, with the potential to reach areas in an economy that need support.[viii] During the partial lockdown in Ghana, the government started providing food for vulnerable people in the affected areas. The target was to reach the estimated 2.4 million people living in extreme poverty who struggled to survive while being forced to remain in their homes. [ix] Food was provided on a daily basis, but its delivery was complicated by the lack of a comprehensive addressing system in many parts of the country. This, at times, led to large gatherings of people jostling for food.
The measures taken to fight the virus have weighed heavily on the economy. Businesses have been brought to their knees. Among the worst hit are hotels, airlines, tourist attractions, and car rental services. Hotel occupancy rates are down from 70 percent to below 30 percent, which has led to staff layoffs.[x] To cushion businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, the government is drawing on its contingency reserves to deliver the GHc 1.2 billion (approximately $210 million) Coronavirus Alleviation Programme (CAP). The program provides soft loans to micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Additional fiscal interventions waived three months of water bills for all Ghanaians and subsidized electricity bills.
The central bank supported the government’s efforts in sustaining businesses in the wake of the pandemic. There has been a reduction in the benchmark interest rate from 16 percent to 14.5 percent, and a drop in regulatory reserve requirement from 10 percent to 8 percent.[xi] [xii] These monetary policy measures are geared towards increasing the supply of credit to the private sector.
Ghana is not alone in its fight to beat the coronavirus, which has proven to be a difficult task around the world. While it is important for countries to learn from others and share best practices – like methods for understanding when and how to adopt or end lockdowns – they also need to swiftly implement country-specific policies. Economies around the globe are reopening, but the battle is not over yet.
[i] “Economic Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on the Economy of Ghana,” Summary of Fiscal Measures, Deloitte, April 2020.
[iii] “Coronavirus: Government orders closure of schools & universities, bans public gatherings,” MyJoyOnline, 15 March, 2020, https://www.myjoyonline.com/news/national/livestream-akufo-addo-provides-latest-updates-on-coronavirus/
[iv] “Statement to Parliament on Economic Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Economy of Ghana,” Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, March 2020, http: www.mof.gov.gh.
[v] “Covid-19 Strategy Update,” World Health Organization, April 14, 2020, https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/covid-strategy-update-14april2020.pdf?sfvrsn=29da3ba0_19&download=true
[vi] James Dzansi, “Ghana lifts the lockdown: Has the government reneged on its commitment to contain COVID-19 at all costs?” International Growth Centre, May 1, 2020, https://www.theigc.org/blog/ghana-lifts-the-lockdown-has-the-government-reneged-on-its-commitment-to-contain-covid-19-at-all-costs/
[vii] Tetlow, Gemma, Joe Owen, Thomas Pope, Jill Rutter, Akash Paun, Alex Nice, Alex Thomas, Bronwen Maddox, Catherine Haddon, Emma Noris, Hannah Wise and Nick Davies. “Lifting lockdown, How to approach a coronavirus exit strategy,” Institute of Governance. April 2020
[viii] “Fiscal Policy and Long-Term Growth”, IMF Policy Paper, June2015, https://www.imf.org/external/np/pp/eng/2015/042015.pdf
[ix] “Ghana Living Standard Survey (GLSS 7),” Ghana Statistical Service, www.gss.gov.gh.
[x] “Statement to Parliament on Economic Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Economy of Ghana,” Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, March, 2020, www.mof.gov.gh.
[xi] Bank of Ghana Monetary Policy Committee Press Release, March 18, 2020, https://www.bog.gov.gh/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/MPC-Press-Release-March-2020-3.pdf
[xii] “Guidance on the Utilisation of Capital and Liquidity Releases to Banks and SDIS,” Bank of Ghana, https://www.bog.gov.gh/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Notice-No-BG-GOV-SEC-2020-01-Guidance-on-the-Utilisation-of-Capital-and-Liquidity-Releases-to-Banks-and-SDIs.pdf
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