I wish all of you a happy and prosperous New Year. We have to be thankful to Almighty God for seeing us through 2020, undoubtedly one of the most eventful years in the history of mankind.
I am sure that many, at the stroke of midnight on 31st December, were happy to see the back of 2020, the global pandemic of COVID-19 being the main reason. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is still with us, and that is why I have come into your homes for the twenty-first (21st) time to provide you with further updates on the decisions taken by Government to try and bring our lives safely back to normal, and achieve our ultimate goal of zero active cases
Since the announcement, on Wednesday, 11th March 2020, of the first set of restrictions to help win the fight against the virus, several others have been imposed by Government to this end. Measures including the temporary partial lockdown of the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area, Tema, Kasoa, and the Greater Kumasi Metropolitan Area and contiguous districts, the closure of our schools, the adherence to enhanced hygiene, social distancing and mask wearing protocols, the ban on public gatherings, and the closure of our schools and our borders, imposed considerable difficulties on all of us.
A number of these restrictions have, since, been eased, and others are still in force. As at 1st January, the number of active cases in Ghana stands at eight hundred and seventy-nine (879) cases, with fifty-three thousand, and five (54,005) recoveries, eighteen (18) severely ill but no critical cases. We have conducted six hundred and seventy-four thousand, eight hundred and twelve (674,812) tests, with fifty-five thousand, two hundred and twenty (55,220) positive cases detected. There have, sadly, been three hundred and thirty-six (336) deaths.
This is a relatively welcome picture, when regard is paid to the data from other countries, especially also at a time when many parts of the world are having to grapple with a second wave of infections and a new variant of the virus, which is said to be more transmissible than the original version.
Thus far, we, in Ghana, have not detected any case of this new variant. Our scientists tell us that the genetic make-up of the virus in the country has still not changed.
The Ghana Health Service, with the support of relevant institutions, continues to monitor events closely, and will advise Government on the way forward. Accordingly, the adherence to the enhanced hygiene, social distancing and mask wearing protocols continue to be the tools of our warfare, even when the vaccines arrive in Ghana. By observing these protocols strictly, we are also making sure that the imposition of crippling restrictions and lockdowns do not become options for Government.
Until then, Government, in consultation with the appropriate stakeholders, will continue to pursue a strategic, controlled, progressive, safe easing of restrictions, this time in all public and private basic schools, junior high, senior high, and tertiary institutions across the country, beginning this month of January. The lessons drawn from the reopening of some sections of our educational institutions, in the course of last year, have put us in a much better position to oversee successfully the full reopening of our schools. Our children must go to school, albeit safely, and we are satisfied that, in the current circumstances, the re-opening of our schools is safe.
So, from 15th January, our children in kindergarten, primary and Junior High, in both private and public schools, will be back in school. All SHS 1 students will start classes from 10th March, with all students embarking on a single-track academic calendar. Their seniors in SHS 2 and SHS 3 will, however, return to school from 18th January. I must stress that SHS 3 students in all schools, like SHS 1 students, will no longer run the double track system. The expansion of infrastructure at the various senior high schools, over the last three (3) years, has brought us to this favourable situation. However, the double track system will still be applicable to SHS 2 students in schools that are employing it. Students in universities and other tertiary institutions are to be in school from Saturday, 9th January.
Prior to their return to school, Government, through the Ministry of Education and the Ghana Education Service, will ensure that all institutions, public and private, are fumigated and disinfected. Schools and institutions, with their own hospitals and clinics, will be equipped with the necessary personal protective equipment, and have isolation centres to deal with any positive cases. All other school and institutions, without their own clinics and hospitals, have been mapped to health facilities. There will be, for now, no mass gatherings and no sporting activities. However, religious activities for students at school, under the new protocols, will be permitted. Social distancing and the wearing of face masks must become the norm in our schools. The requisite provisions have been made to ensure that students at all levels of the education ladder receive the minimum number of contact hours upon their return to school.
To facilitate the safety of students, Government, through the Ministry of Education, will provide face masks, ‘Veronica’ buckets, hand sanitisers, liquid soap, rolls of tissue paper, and thermometer guns for the safe re-opening of the schools. The Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Education, the Ghana Health Service and the Ghana Education Service will from Monday, 4th January, commence a series of sensitisation campaigns to help prepare, inform and educate guardians, students and the public on further modalities associated with the re-openings.
I want to use this address to assure all parents and guardians that Government is determined to protect the lives of all students, teachers and non-teaching staff, who will be returning to school. It bears repeating that everyone of them must adhere strictly to the protocols to protect themselves and others.
Fellow Ghanaians, it has been well-established that the very first cases of COVID-19 in Ghana were imported into our shores. Limiting importation of cases has, thus, been one of our main objectives since the outbreak of the disease in the country. We, in Ghana, have always been concerned about variant strains of the virus coming into the country. That is why when we opened our international airport on 1st September, we introduced one of the strictest testing regimes in the world – a two tier testing system – which indicated that all passengers arriving at Kotoka must be in possession of a negative PCR test result upon their arrival in Ghana, a test which should have been conducted not more than seventy-two (72) hours before the scheduled departure from the country of origin. In addition to this, all passengers were to be subjected to a mandatory COVID test on arrival.
As of 1st January 2021, a total of seven hundred and twelve (712) positive cases, out of one hundred and eighteen thousand, two hundred and seventy-eight (118,278) tests conducted, have been recorded among international arrivals at the Kotoka International Airport. Indeed, the month of December alone recorded three hundred and eighty-seven (387) cases. The positivity rate among international arrivals rose from 0.26% in September to 0.93% in December.
These developments call for strengthening of the existing protocols to prevent the spread of the disease in Ghana, in light of the new variant of the virus. Therefore, the following measures will be implemented, in addition to existing guidelines on International Travel for COVID-19, in Ghana:
all arriving passengers who test positive for COVID-19, asymptomatic or not, will undergo mandatory isolation and treatment at a designated health facility or isolation centre. The isolation will be for a period of seven (7) days at the cost of Government. However, the final discharge of cases will be based on existing case management guidelines and protocols;
all passengers who are in isolation will undergo a repeat COVID-19 test within twenty-four (24) hours of arrival, with the cost also borne by Government. This test will also include genomic sequencing for COVID-19; and
all passengers who test negative for COVID-19 will be required to adhere continuously to COVID-19 safety protocols, and will receive regular information on COVID-19 within five (5) days of arrival in Ghana.
I want to assure all Ghanaians that the testing regime in place at Kotoka is amongst the strictest in the world, and, as certified by the Food and Drugs Authority, it is capable of detecting this new variant of COVID-19, which is plaguing other nations around the world.
Fellow Ghanaians, in Update No. 20, prior to the Christmas festivities, I made a passionate appeal to you to ensure compliance with the COVID protocols, and reiterated that, amongst others, beaches, pubs, cinemas and nightclubs were to be closed until further notice. The Taskforce that advises me on COVID measures is constantly reviewing the situation, and will propose to me when it is safe to lift the restriction.
You will recall that, in our quest to help shield you from the effects of the virus, Government took the decision to provide relief to Ghanaians, which included the absorption of electricity and water bills. This relief package ended in December. However, with the continuing difficulties occasioned by the pandemic, I want to state that Government intends to continue to support the most vulnerable in our society. Government will, thus, continue to pay the electricity bills for our nation’s one million active lifeline customers for the next three months, i.e. January, February and March. Additionally, all one million, five hundred thousand customers of the Ghana Water Company, whose consumption is not more than five cubic metres a month, will not pay any bills for the next three months, i.e. for the months of January, February and March. This relief package will be reviewed at the end of March.
Fellow Ghanaians, it has been over nine (9) months since we all made adjustments to many aspects of our lives and daily routines. It has not been an easy task, I know. However, we have done so to protect our lives, the lives of our loved ones, and the lives of our heroic health workers who continue to care for those affected by the virus and the sick in general. With Ghana set to procure her first consignment of the COVID vaccines within the first half of this year, there is light at the end of the tunnel. But, we are not yet out of the woods. So, let us all continue down the path of strict adherence to the protocols. There is nothing beyond us, the Ghanaian people, who were the first in sub-Saharan Africa to gain our freedom from colonial rule. We can do it.
It has been my responsibility to come to your homes with these updates on twenty-one occasions, and, certainly, it has been an honour and an absolute privilege to have served you as your President these past four years. I look forward to delivering on the mandate you have entrusted to me and my Government for the next four years, and, together, we shall defeat COVID, and steer this beloved country of ours back onto the path of progress and prosperity.
This too shall pass! For the Battle is still the Lords!!
May God bless us all, and our homeland Ghana, and make her great and strong.
I thank you for your attention, and have a good night.