Fellow Ghanaians, good evening.
I am happy that I have the opportunity this evening to engage with you, again, in your homes. I want, at the outset, to thank all of you for your prayers and expressions of good wishes when doctors advised me to go into quarantine for two (2) weeks. God being so good, I am back again at work. I thank you very much for your concern.
It has been a month since I came to provide you an update on the measures being taken by my Government to combat the Coronavirus pandemic.
And it has been almost five (5) months since our lives were turned upside down, and, indeed, the whole world was forced into a crisis of unimaginable proportions. This crisis, that dramatically affects lives and livelihoods, has plunged the world into unchartered waters, as even the experts admit that they are having to learn as we go along. This new, unknown virus has led the world and its economies to a violent halt, and has brought death and fear into our lives.
We, in Ghana, rose to the occasion, and introduced measures to protect lives and livelihoods. Fellow Ghanaians, back in March, most of us hoped passionately that the effects of the virus would wane quickly, once we took the steps that had been recommended to contain the spread. Even the most hard-headed expert opinion suggested that, by the middle of the year, the spread of the virus would be on the wane.
We are now at the end of July. The virus is still raging. There is not an effective treatment yet. As time goes on, we – and, indeed, the world – have come to understand that COVID-19 is not a problem, which will go away on its own.
Ultimately, salvation will come with an effective and accessible treatment. We hope and pray that this will happen tomorrow, but it may very well happen in a couple of months, in a couple of years or it may take even longer. Until then, we have to learn to adapt to the conditions. It is not normal that we have to wear masks, but now we have to; it is not normal that we cannot shake hands with each other; and it is certainly not normal that we cannot hug our family members and loved ones; but that is our current reality. Until treatment is found, COVID-19 will remain a part of our lives.
But life cannot be put on hold indefinitely, and Ghana cannot remain in a never-ending crisis management situation, and that is why we have been putting measures in place to restore gradually some normalcy in our social and economic lives, as we learn to cope with the reality of the virus.
Probably the most significant of these measures has been the gradual reopening of the schools to enable final year students at various levels of education finish the school year and take their exams.
Since the last time I addressed the nation, we have seen over seven hundred and fifty thousand persons, comprising students, teachers and non-teaching staff, in our Junior High Schools returning to school to prepare for and sit the Basic Education Certificate Examination. Last Monday, the three hundred and seventy thousand final year SHS students, who have been in school for five (5) weeks, started writing the West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination. One hundred and twenty-seven thousand, one hundred and forty-three (127,143) students in our Universities and other tertiary institutions have now all virtually completed their final examinations.
The safety and good health of students and staff have been the paramount considerations in the reopening of schools, and we have, therefore, insisted on full adherence to the enhanced COVID-19 protocols. That is why, as has already been widely publicised, we undertook a massive mobilisation and deployment of logistics to our educational facilities to help ensure that learning is conducted in an atmosphere of safety, as we continue to limit and contain the spread of the virus in our country. All of these reiterate the commitment of Government to protect the lives of all those involved in the phased re-openings of our schools, and I will not renege on my obligation towards either our children or their parents.
Mercifully, we have witnessed only a few cases of infections in our Universities and other tertiary institutions; the few students who tested positive in a few of our Senior High Schools have all either recovered or are on the path to full recovery, and will write the WASSCE; and the few final year Junior High School students, who have tested positive and who are largely asymptomatic, are being managed in isolation centres.
Government continues to engage with the stakeholders in the education sector to determine the conditions for the future re-opening of schools, after the current examinations are concluded by mid-September. I will keep you fully informed about the outcomes.
Three days ago, the Minister for Finance, the hardworking, highly patriotic Ghanaian, Ken Ofori-Atta, went to Parliament, and gave the country a candid view of the state of affairs of our economy. Not only did he present a compelling review of the efforts put in place over the last three and half years to stabilise and grow our economy, he was also able to paint a credible picture of hope for the future, despite the ravages caused by COVID-19.
It is reassuring to see working in real life the bold decision to implement a Relief, Resilience and Recovery plan, with the overarching aim of providing relief to the ordinary Ghanaian, and being able to find more resources to strengthen the productive sectors of the economy to ensure sustained economic activity.
Government was able to feed thousands of our people during the period of the lockdown. From April to June, Government gave additional allowances to our healthcare workers, ensured free access to water for all households across the country, fully absorbed electricity bills for one million active lifeline customers, and granted a fifty percent (50%) subsidy on electricity bills of all other customers, using the March 2020 bill as the benchmark. Through the Coronavirus Alleviation Programme Business Support Scheme, six hundred million cedis (GH¢600 million) is being disbursed to support micro, small and medium scale enterprises, which have been affected by the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.
It bears repeating that some of these incentive packages have been extended for the next three months. In my thirteenth (13th) update to the nation, I announced the extension of incentive packages for health workers by another three (3) months, i.e. July, August and September. In the Finance Minister’s mid-year budget review, he, again, announced that all Ghanaians are to enjoy free water supply for another three months. I intend to have it reviewed at the end of the period. Government is also extending free electricity supply to lifeline tariff customers until the end of the year. The Communication Service Tax has also been reduced from 9 percent to 5 percent, effective September 2020.
Once approved by Parliament, a National Unemployment Insurance Scheme will be instituted, and will provide temporary income support to workers that have lost their jobs. Government is increasing funding, under the CAP Business Support Scheme, with an additional one hundred and fifty million cedis (GH¢150 million), to ensure an increased number of beneficiaries. Furthermore, as indicated by the Minister for Finance, Government is establishing a Guarantee Scheme of some two billion cedis (GH¢2 billion) to enable businesses access credit at more affordable rates so they can survive, and better able to retain jobs.
All of these reaffirm our determination to save lives, jobs and livelihoods, revitalise our economy, and safeguard the future of our country. I assure you that, under my watch as President of the Republic, Government will continue to work to create a diversified, transformed economy, fashion a conducive business climate that will deliver development, progress and prosperity for all Ghanaians. This is my solemn pledge to you.
Fellow Ghanaians, we are in the fifth month of the outbreak of COVID-19 on our shores. At first glance, it is alarming to see that thirty-two thousand, nine hundred and sixty-nine (32,969) people have so far contracted the virus. But a closer look at the data will tell you that we are steadily on the path towards limiting and containing the virus, and, ultimately, defeating it. The figure to look out for is the number of active cases.
When I delivered Update No. 13, the number of active cases in the country, i.e. those who, as at 27th June, 2020, had the virus, stood at four thousand, two hundred and forty-five (4,245). As at midnight of 24th July, nearly a month later, the number of active cases in Ghana stands at three thousand, three hundred and seven (3,307). Again, a month ago, the number of recoveries stood at twelve thousand, nine hundred and ninety-four (12,994). Today, it is twenty-eight thousand, nine hundred and twenty-seven (29,494). This means our recovery rate has improved from seventy-five percent (75%) of positives, a month ago, to eighty-nine point five percent (89.5%), all in one month currently.
Our hospitalisation and death rates have, consistently, been very low, some of the lowest in Africa and in the world. The Ghanaian people, mercifully, are not dying of the virus in the hundreds and thousands that were earlier anticipated and predicted, and that are being seen on a daily basis in some other countries. The behaviour of this virus has baffled the experts and defied most predictions, but five months on, we can say that we are witnessing a much milder manifestation of the virus in the country, than was initially feared. The rate of virus-related deaths has remained, persistently, low at 0.5% of confirmed cases.
And, I dare say, it is the Grace of God and the measures taken by your Government, with your support, that have produced this result. It is also importantly due to the immense dedication and hard work being exhibited by our healthcare workers, who continue to care for those affected by the virus, and for the sick in general, and to whom we continue to remain indebted.
I must mention at this stage the completion and handing over on Friday of the one hundred (100) bed Ghana Infectious Diseases Centre at the Ga East Municipal Hospital. This is a world-class facility, which serves as an example of co-operation between the public and private sectors in our country. The project was conceived and executed by a group of private sector people, with the wholehearted support of Government and the Ghana Armed Forces. In one hundred (100) days, they have provided the first Infectious Diseases centre in our country and we are better able to provide hospital treatment for those in need. This project has been a good example of the generous Ghanaian spirit that has been exhibited since the onset of this crisis. I extend to the trustees and members of the COVID-19 Private Sector Fund, the profound gratitude of the nation.
It is the reality of the progress of the virus in our country, the measures we have taken to cope better, and the regular consultations with relevant stakeholders, that informed Government’s decision, over a month ago, to embark on a strategic, controlled, progressive, safe easing of restrictions to get our lives and economy back to normal.
After further extensive consultations, Government has taken the decision to embark upon the implementation of Phase Two of the easing of restrictions in the following sectors of our national life.
Our Churches and Mosques have been open for prayers and services for the past seven (7) weeks, adhering to twenty-five per cent occupancy (25%) or up to one hundred congregants over a time duration of up to one hour per service. I extend my deepest appreciation to our religious leaders for their strict adherence to the safety protocols, which have prevented any known outbreaks, since they restarted their services.
I have sorely missed going to Church, as I am sure many others have. I am, therefore, very happy to announce that, in consultation with our Church leaders, from 1st August, 2020, the restrictions on the number of congregants worshipping at a time in Church will be lifted, with the length of worship extended from one (1) to two (2) hours per service. Church leaders, who are desirous of implementing this enhanced easing directive, must ensure that congregants wear face masks at all times, and the one (1) metre social distancing rule is scrupulously applied. These same guidelines apply to worship in our Mosques. With greater numbers of congregants likely to return for worship, I would, respectfully, ask the religious leaders to pay even greater attention to the fresh air ventilation of their premises, rather than relying on the use of air conditioners.
In consultation with the Ghana Tourism Authority and the health experts, I am announcing the reopening of our nation’s tourist sites and attractions, so they can begin to receive visitors. Open air drinking spots can now function. The management of these facilities are tasked to enforce enhanced hygiene and social distancing protocols. Beaches, pubs, cinemas and nightclubs, however, remain closed until further notice.
Our female Under-20 and Under-17 national football teams have been given the clearance to go into their respective training camps to begin preparations towards their FIFA and CAF-sanctioned international matches, which begin in September. Whilst in training, the playing, technical and management teams must observe strictly all the protocols issued by Government, CAF and FIFA against COVID-19. All other team and contact sports, and competitive sporting events remain suspended till further notice.
In consultation with the Ministries of Transport and Aviation, and the leadership of transport operators, Government has taken the decision to lift the restrictions in the transport sector, and allow for full capacity in our domestic airplanes, taxis, trotros and buses. The wearing of masks in vehicles and aircrafts, and the maintenance of enhanced hygiene protocols, remain mandatory. Private burials, still, with a maximum of one hundred (100) persons, can continue to be performed.
Our borders, by air, land and sea, remain closed until further notice for human traffic. However, given that there are Ghana residents stranded abroad, special dispensation will continue to be given for the evacuation of our nationals and residents back to Ghana, where they will be subjected to the mandatory quarantine and safety protocols.