After three weeks, Ghana is lifting the coronavirus lockdown in its two biggest cities, Accra and Kumasi starting 1 AM local time on Monday Apr. 20. A lockdown of the two worst affected metropolitan areas had been in place since Mar. 30, 2020.
Non-essential businesses will now be allowed to open while the wearing of masks is encouraged. But there are still bans on large gatherings and schools will remain closed.
In his seventh address to the nation since the first two cases were confirmed on Mar. 12, 2020, president Nana Akufo-Addo said his decision was based on the country’s “ability to undertake aggressive contact tracing of infected persons, the enhancement of our capacity to test, the expansion in the numbers of our treatment and isolation centers.” The president also said he was concerned with the “severe impact on the poor and vulnerable.”
This makes Ghana, the first country in Africa to ease its lockdown at a time others such as Zimbabwe and Nigeria have extended theirs. Last week, a high court blocked Malawi’s lockdown hours before it was due to come into force because of concerns the restriction on movement could cause more harm to the poorest in society than the virus.
In recent weeks African governments have been criticized for replicating the coronavirus prevention strategies of wealthier countries without taking into account key differences and the need to adapt to the local environment. Former Liberian public works minister and a Center for Global Development fellow, W. Gyude Moore has advised African governments to consider more flexible strategies such as curfews instead of total lockdowns, which acknowledge that large swathes of the population rely on daily trade for survival.
But lockdowns are not just a challenge for people in low-income countries dominated by the informal sector. In the United States there have been protests by citizens in states including Texas and Michigan asking for their states to be reopened.
Aside from the lockdown, Ghana has made aggressive testing of suspected cases central to its coronavirus response. “We have, till date, traced some 86,000 contacts, out of which we have test results of 68,591 contacts. We are ranked number one in Africa in [the] administering of tests per million people,” president Akufo-Addo said.
South Africa, which has a population two and a half times Ghana’s, has conducted about 100,000 tests. Around 100 small labs spread within Ghana used for tuberculosis tests will now be equipped with the capacity to test for Covid-19.
Rigorous testing in Ghana has so far helped identify 1,042 cases of the coronavirus, with nine deaths and 99 recoveries. At the end of March when the lockdown came into effect, it had confirmed only 161 cases. This rise in cases had many expecting the announcement of an extension of the lockdown not its end.
The government’s handling of the coronavirus has largely received public and bipartisan support. However, this might be changing as for the first time, the leading opposition party is no longer in favor of the government’s latest action.
“Many health experts continue to suggest the necessity and appropriateness of an extension of the restrictions on movement,” said former president John Mahama, who is seeking to return to power after December’s general elections, in a tweet an hour before the current president’s broadcast.
By banking on its testing and isolation capacity, the government has placed its confidence in the public’s adherence to social distancing and hygiene protocols to ride out the coronavirus storm.