Wed, Feb

Sharing sense and sensibility - Elizabeth Ohene writes...

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  • I had been hoping that the entry of the virus into our country would make us all so frightened we would want to change our behaviour, but it looks like we haven’t been frightened enough.

I am not sharing fear and panic if I state that we haven’t yet seen the worst of the current trouble we are in. You only need to see the figures and the graph of the rise and rise of the coronavirus in Ghana to realise that more infections of COVID-19 will be discovered.

The most dramatic example of what we face came last Saturday, when the President was addressing the nation and referred to 19 cases in the country and by the time we finished listening to him, the figure for the number of people infected had become 21.

It does not bear thinking of where we will end, if things were to proceed on the current trajectory. We don’t have a health system that can cope with the exponential spread of the disease that we face.

It does not look like any country can cope with the devastation that the virus wreaks if unchecked. Countries with much better organised and resourced health services are struggling. I believe it would be useful for us to be brutally frank with ourselves as we engage in the discussions and suggestions about how we deal with the problem we face.

I had been hoping that the entry of the virus into our country would make us all so frightened we would want to change our behaviour, but it looks like we haven’t been frightened enough.

On Monday, the streets of Accra looked and felt as though many of us had taken to heart the injunction to stay at home. By Tuesday morning, things were back to the usual chaos.

The streets were clear on Monday because of the big market disinfection exercise and once over, things were back to normal. The markets were full. Vegetables and other foods are heaped on the ground and offered for sale.

Social distancing

Tro-tros are still carrying the same number of people and taking no notice of the admonition for social distance. I heard a GPRTU official say that if a vehicle that takes 14 passengers normally is made to take 10 passengers, the drivers and vehicle owners will lose money. It is obviously better to risk endangering the lives of all 14 passengers, plus the driver and his mate than lose some money.


The state of the markets, even after disinfection, gives cause for worry and one fears that the entry of one carrier of the coronavirus into any market would spell disaster. Why would the market leaders not take the lead in depopulating the markets?

They could divide the number of sellers in the market into three groups and one group sells one day and the other one sells the next day. It would mean two groups would not be in the market offering goods for sale every day, but it would be better than carrying on like this, until we are forced into a total lockdown and all of them can’t sell on any day.

Schools have been closed and many young people are feeling bored. Over the weekend, we had this unbelievable situation of young people crowding the beaches to enjoy themselves and I hear, to “wash away corona”.

It might well be that some of the young people feel they are immune to the infection, but they might care to take a look at the new figures and discover that whereas the elderly are still dying in alarming numbers from the disease, younger people are also now dying.


It is not surprising that more and more people are calling for a lockdown of at least the two big population centres, of Greater Accra and Kumasi to be able to break the cycle of infection.

We are obviously not in the same position as the countries that have had lockdowns or are in the process of doing so.

In Accra-Tema and in the Kumasi area, the housing difficulties mean that even asking people to stay at home has its own problems, as some people don’t have homes to go to and stay in.

It might not be the most politically correct thing to say, but it would surely be better for those people to be persuaded to go to their villages for the duration of the crisis or at least , until the situation calms down a bit.

Now that community level infection has started, it is critical that we are able to limit it to the two urban areas of Accra-Tema and Kumasi, rather than have a countrywide infestation on our hands.

It is obvious that many Ghanaians are not willing or ready to subject themselves to the self-discipline that is required to keep all of us safe.


Whereas many of the people who arrived in the country in the two to three days before the closure of the borders have accepted the inconvenience of quarantine with good humour, there are some who obviously resent not being allowed out and have been loud about their complaints.

We are all saying these are not normal times and yet we seem to want to behave as though things were normal.

Because these are not normal times, it would be helpful not to insist on your day being the way it always has been. We shall all soon discover that the many things we had considered absolutely critical and which we can’t do without, are really not that critical at all.

Since we are all not going anywhere and all public events have been banned, we won’t be needing any new clothes , handbags , shoes and jewellery. Those that we do have, are going to stay in the closet and would be of no use at all.

I do worry about the tailors, dressmakers, event organisers and the shops that cater for indulgences. You would probably rearrange your order of priorities and surprise yourself. The extraordinary times have come with their own surprises.

Indeed, the most enlightening article I have read in the past week was an article in the New York Times which said you could use “dirty” water, that is, water from the laundry to wash your hands, so long as you have soap.

Today, Wednesday, has been designated as a day for fasting and prayer for our country. I am hoping we shall be praying that we change our attitudes.

I think we now accept the virus is here among us and we are all potential victims. How many of us it takes eventually will depend very much on our acceptance that individual behaviour affects public health.

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