Fellow Ghanaians, good evening.
It has been three and a half months since we began our fight to defeat the Coronavirus pandemic in the country. It has, so far, been a co-ordinated and enhanced response, with tracing, testing, isolating, treating, and the maintenance of the relevant social distancing and hygiene protocols being the weapons we continue to employ to help contain the spread of the virus.
We are all agreed that this novel disease has thrust the whole world into unknown and unchartered territory, and we are having to learn as we go along. As part of the phased approach to return our lives, safely, back to normal, final year students in our tertiary institutions returned to school on Monday, 15th June, to prepare for and sit their exit examinations.
One week on, it has proved to be a relatively smooth exercise, with very few hitches recorded. I thank, in particular, the Vice Chancellors and other heads of our tertiary institutions for the support and co-operation offered Government towards its success. Indeed, decisions, like those being taken by the leadership of Sunyani Technical University, in the Bono Region, to sanction students, lecturers and non-teaching staff, who flout the COVID-19 protocols, reinforce the collective determination of the majority of Ghanaians to defeat the virus.
From tomorrow, Monday, 22nd June, the next batch of students, who will be going back to school, are final year senior high school students (SHS 3), and second year Gold Track students. On Thursday, I held consultations with members of both the Conference of Heads of Assisted Secondary Schools (CHASS), and the Association of Principals of Technical Institutes (APTI), to agree on the modalities for the return of the students. Despite the short notice for the meeting, I was happy to see the impressive turnout of their executives from all parts of the country, and I am grateful for the wholehearted co-operation they pledged to Government.
Like their seniors at the University, SHS 3 students will be in school for a total of six (6) weeks, before sitting for the WASSCE exams over a period of two (2) weeks. SHS 2 Gold Track students, who are returning to complete their first semester like their Green Track colleagues have done, will be in school for six (6) weeks, before going on vacation.
All one thousand, one hundred and sixty-seven (1,167) Senior High Schools in the country have been fumigated and disinfected. Each student, teaching and non-teaching staff, invigilator and school administrator, numbering some eight hundred thousand (800,000), will be provided with three (3) pieces of reusable face masks, i.e. two (2) being provided tomorrow, and the third within a fortnight. Nonetheless, I encourage parents to provide their wards and children with at least one (1) face covering on their way to school. A total of eighteen thousand (18,000) Veronica Buckets, eight hundred thousand (800,000) pieces of two hundred millilitre sanitizers, thirty-six thousand (36,000) rolls of tissue paper, thirty-six thousand (36,000) gallons of liquid soap, and seven thousand, two hundred (7,200) thermometer guns have been distributed.
A maximum of twenty-five students will be permitted in each class. All day students in schools with boarding houses will be resident in these boarding houses, whilst day students, in schools without boarding facilities, will commute from home, and will be required to adhere to enhanced hygiene protocols; eating in dining halls will be in appropriate numbers; and no visitors to the schools will be allowed. There will be no mass gatherings and no sporting activities. Religious activities, under the new protocols, will be permitted. Social distancing and the wearing of face masks are obligatory in our schools.
One dormitory block in each senior high school is to be used as an isolation centre, in the event of a student falling sick. Again, each SHS has been mapped to a health facility, and care will be provided to the sick by nurses assigned to these schools.
Through the National Food and Buffer Stock Company, enough food supplies have been distributed to all schools. Government is also making available three hundred and fifty (350) buses and eight hundred and forty (840) pickup vehicles to senior high schools that did not receive vehicles in 2016. For the first time in our nation’s history, Government will absorb the WASSCE examination fees of the three hundred and thirteen thousand, eight hundred and thirty-seven (313,837) SHS 3 students who will sit for the exam. GH¢75.4 million will be spent on this.
These SHS 3 students, also referred to by some as the ‘Akufo-Addo graduates’, are the first group of beneficiaries of Government’s Free Senior High School policy to sit the WASSCE exams. 1.2 million children, the highest such enrolment in our nation’s history, because of this policy, are currently in senior high schools. Let us pause for a moment to consider what would have happened to the four hundred thousand (400,000) more students, who have entered Senior High School between 2017 and 2019, without this policy in place.
We introduced Free SHS because history, and the experiences of developed nations, have shown that the most efficient way to empower the population, and, thereby, guarantee the future of the nation, is by investing in education and skills training of the youth. This is because it is the people of Ghana, Ghanaians like you and I, and especially the youth of today, who are going to build Ghana. Without an educated populace, it will be difficult to transition from the status of a developing to a developed nation. Summing it up, that most noble Ghanaian, James Kwegyir Aggrey, said, a hundred years ago, and I quote, “I want all my people, my country women and men to be educated …, and thus render Africa indispensable in intellectual, spiritual and commercial products of the world.”
I take this opportunity to assure all parents and guardians that Government is determined to protect the lives of the eight hundred thousand (800,000) students, teachers and non-teaching staff, who will be returning to school from tomorrow. I will be the last person to put the lives of the ‘Akufo-Addo graduates’ at risk. It bears repeating that they must all adhere strictly to enhanced personal hygiene and social distancing protocols, regularly wash their hands with soap under running water, refrain from shaking hands, and wear masks to protect themselves and others. These rules apply to all of us.
Fellow Ghanaians, the experts told us right at the beginning of this pandemic that, whether the virus spreads or not, is dependent on our individual behaviour. Someone put it graphically that the virus has not got feet, and cannot move by itself, and that we, humans, spread it. The large majority of us continue to adhere to the protocols. Unfortunately, there are some who do not; others have slackened; and an unacceptably significant number have refused to obey them altogether. In such an atmosphere, if we do not take care, the virus will continue to spread, which will lead to intolerable pressure on our health facilities and care givers. Each one of us must be part of the fight to stop the spread of the virus.
Our approach to dealing with the virus, as I have always said, will be informed by the evolving science and data. At the outset of the pandemic, the scientific community and the World Health Organisation (WHO), on 12th January, 2020, recommended two main criteria for declaring someone who has tested positive as having recovered from the disease. The first is that you no longer have symptoms, and the second is that you are no longer capable of infecting others. Initially, the scientific thinking was that, as long you continue to test positive, you are capable of infecting others. Hence, the requirement for the two consecutive, negative tests before you are declared as having recovered. This was the science that informed the guidelines that Ghana has, so far, followed. However, there is now new evidence which states that, after ten (10) to fourteen (14) days, a person, with no symptoms, is unlikely to transmit the virus to others, even if the person continues to test positive. It is on this basis that WHO has updated its guidelines, as published per its Clinical Management of COVID-19 Interim Guidance, of 27th May, 2020, “as part of the clinical care pathway of a COVID-19 patient”. According to WHO, asymptomatic patients, i.e. those who have tested positive for the virus, but are not exhibiting any symptoms after fourteen (14) days, “are not likely to be infectious, and, therefore, are unlikely to be able to transmit the virus to another person”. After three (3) weeks of analysing and studying this update and recommendation, and situating it in the Ghanaian context, in line with the admonition by WHO to Member States, this new patient discharge/recovery policy has now been adopted by Ghana, as have some countries in the European Union, Singapore, India, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and in Dubai.
As at Saturday, 20th June, the total number of positives, cumulatively, stands at fourteen thousand, and one hundred and fifty-four (14,154), out of the two hundred and seventy thousand, three hundred (270,300) tests conducted. Under the revised policy, five thousand, nine hundred and twenty-five (5,925) persons have recovered and been discharged. This brings the total number of recoveries to ten thousand, four hundred and seventy-three (10,473). The number of active cases is, thus, three thousand, five hundred and ninety-six (3,596). In our hospitals and isolation centres, we currently have twenty-four (24) persons severely ill, six (6) persons critically ill, with four (4) persons on ventilators. Eighty-five (85) persons have, regrettably, died.
This increased number of persons being discharged from our isolation and treatment centres brings in its wake yet another issue that we have to deal with – stigmatisation. It is obvious that stigmatisation is adding further dimensions to the already difficult problem of the pandemic. Part of the reason for the spread of the virus is the reluctance of some persons to admit they have tested positive, and go into quarantine for fear of being stigmatised, and, in the process, continue to be agents of the spread of the virus. Persons, who test positive for the virus, once they recover, do not pose any danger whatsoever to anyone, because the scientists tell us that they can no longer spread the virus. As I have said before, there is nothing shameful about contracting the virus, and, consequently, we do not have to lose our sense of community because of this pandemic.
Fellow Ghanaians, in line with our policy of providing optimal care for the sick, and reducing COVID-19 related deaths, Government continues to mobilise holding-bay, quarantine, isolation and treatment centres across the country. I thank the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT) for their admirable, civic gesture of making available their facility in Ejisu in the Ashanti Region; and the Catholic Bishops Conference for agreeing to the use of their facilities across the country as isolation centres in the fight against COVID-19. These are timely offers, which will ensure that our overall healthcare systems are not unduly burdened and overrun. Such institutions deserve the sincere appreciation of the entire nation, as does the gesture of the Minister for Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Prof. Kwabena Frimpong Boateng, who has offered his 70-bed hospital in Toase, in the Ashanti Region, as a COVID-19 treatment centre.
As I indicated in my address to the nation last week, the great majority of cases are in the Greater Accra and Ashanti Regions. For these two regions, I have approved further investment in the following areas:
• additional ICU bed facilities in Greater Accra Region;
• a new treatment centre for Ashanti Region;
• additional laboratories to strengthen clinical care to allow for real time results;
• more medicines, consumables and equipment; and
• formal arrangements for a pool of specialist health professionals to complement the respective resident multi-disciplinary health teams at various treatment centres.
We continue to be indebted to our health workers, and express sorrow over the deaths of Dr. Harry Owusu Boateng, a paediatrician at the SDA Hospital in Kwadaso, Kumasi, and Sophia Addo, a nurse with the Ghana Manganese Company Hospital in Tarkwa, who both died in the line of duty. May their souls rest in peace. I also urge the media to continue the positive work of public education they have been engaged in, especially, now, as restrictions are being systematically eased.
Before I conclude, let me remind all Ghanaians, once again, that the wearing of masks is mandatory. Leaving our homes without a face mask, a face covering, or a face shield on is an offence. The Police will conduct random checks in the enforcement of this directive. If you are arrested by the police defying this directive, your sanction could be severe. So, please, let us, at all times, wear our masks. I appeal to each and every one of you to take this as a personal challenge, and help rid Ghana of the virus.
Even though, we now have a better understanding of the dynamism of the virus in our country; even though the majority of people who contract the virus do not show any symptoms at all; and even though Ghanaians are not dying in the hundreds and thousands that were originally anticipated, we cannot afford to be complacent, and let our guard down. Let us remain focused, and adhere to the enhanced hygiene, social distancing and mask-wearing protocols, that have, and must, become part and parcel of our daily lives for the foreseeable future. We can do it, if we work at it.
Let me, in conclusion, wish the ‘Akufo-Addo graduates’, the SHS 3 students, and their seniors in Universities, the best of luck in their forthcoming examinations, which will be conducted in safety. Ghana needs them all for her progress.
May God bless us all, and our homeland Ghana, and make her great and strong.
I thank you for your attention.