Fellow Ghanaians, good evening.
Exactly two weeks ago, I came again into your homes to outline a roadmap for easing the restrictions put in place to help contain the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic in our country. I indicated that it would be a phased approach, involving a selected list of public gatherings, based on their risk profile, socio-economic impact, and, most importantly, our capacity to enforce and to respond, in the event of a flair up in our number of infections.
Since then, we have had some of our religious institutions opening their doors to worshippers, whilst respecting the limits on numbers, and maintaining the strict protocols announced; others have decided to remain closed until further notice. Private burials are taking place, market places, public transport, including domestic air transport, restaurants, hotels, individual and non-contact sports, and our constitutional and statutory bodies are conducting their activities in accordance with social distancing and the relevant hygiene protocols.
From tomorrow, Monday, 15th June, the last batch of institutions in this phased approach, our educational institutions, will begin to re-open, with final year students in our tertiary colleges and universities returning to school to prepare for and take their exit examinations. As has been stated, final year senior high school (SHS 3) students, together with SHS 2 Gold Track students, will resume on 22nd June; and final year junior high school (JHS 3) students, the week after, on 29th June.
The decision to include our schools in phase one of the easing of restrictions was taken advisedly. Some argue that we are putting the lives of our students, teachers and non-teaching staff in danger by this re-opening, citing the examples of other countries, who have done so and recorded spikes in their infection case counts. I have stated, on several occasions, that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the resolution of this pandemic. We have our own unique situation in the country, and we have always taken that it into account in dealing with this disease, much as we are prepared to learn from the examples of others.
Fellow Ghanaians, over the last three (3) months, every aspect of our national life has been affected by this virus. We have had to take deliberate steps to ensure that our society, in the face of the pandemic, is able to function, and continues to strive to deliver the results of progress, prosperity and development, for which we all yearn. Saving lives, jobs and livelihoods, revitalising our economy, and safeguarding the future of our country have been at the heart of this endeavour. We cannot say that, because of the pandemic, we are no longer interested in issues of social justice, such as education and health.
Education, indeed, is the key to the future of our country. The quality of education that our educational institutions produce, ultimately, will determine the success or otherwise of our nation. We, therefore, have to find a way of guaranteeing the prospects of the generation of young people who are the objects of education today, and who represent our future.
We have to do everything within our power to protect their potential, and, thereby, help preserve our future. We cannot afford to let the pandemic undermine our chances for survival and progress. We have to confront our present and future with confidence, knowing fully well that we must remain, at all times, vigilant and careful.
So, from tomorrow, operating with half the class size, final year students will begin a six-week period of learning to finish their respective programmes. Subsequently, for a period of four weeks, they will sit for their exit examinations. It must be put on record that some final year University students will not be returning to school, as some of them, through virtual means, have already sat their exit examinations.
Prior to their return to school, Government, through the Ministry of Education and the Ghana Education Service, has ensured that all tertiary institutions, public and private, have been disinfected. Universities, with their own hospitals and clinics, have been equipped with the necessary personal protective equipment, and have isolation centres to deal with any positive cases. All other institutions, without their own clinics and hospitals, have been mapped to health facilities. 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 must become the norm on campus. To aid in this effort, a total of six hundred thousand (600,000) face masks has been distributed to the tertiary institutions. This is to enable every student, teaching and non-teaching staff to have three (3) reusable face masks. In addition to this, one thousand seven hundred (1,700) Veronica buckets, two hundred thousand (200,000) litres of hand sanitisers, three thousand, four hundred (3,400) litres of liquid soap, and nine hundred (900) thermometer guns have been distributed, with the transportation and delivery of these items being overseen by the special logistics team of the Government Committee, chaired by the sagacious, experienced politician, the Senior Minister, Hon. Yaw Osafo Maafo, that is supervising the re-opening of the schools.
I met with the Vice Chancellors of the universities, both public and private, last Tuesday, who pledged that they would co-operate to ensure that this exercise is effectively undertaken, and I thank them very much for their co-operation. Our intention is to secure the lives of the nearly two hundred thousand (200,000) students, lecturers and non-teaching staff, who will be returning to campus from tomorrow, and I appeal to them also to do their bit to help us succeed. I urge them to adhere to enhanced personal hygiene and social distancing protocols, wash their hands with soap under running water, refrain from shaking hands, and wear their masks to, in and from the lecture halls, and on the campus, generally.
Fellow Ghanaians, I have to address a matter which has to do with our case count, especially in recent weeks, and which has given cause for anxiety. The increase in numbers indicates that the virus has spread and continues to spread. We have to bear in mind, at all times, that the more people we test for the virus, the more people we are likely to discover as positive, and, thus, have the opportunity to isolate and treat them. If we do not test people for the virus, we will not find the persons who are positive, let alone isolate them from the population and treat them, and prevent them from spreading the virus.
For example, the total number of tests that we have conducted in Ghana, with a population of thirty-one million, two hundred and fifty-four thousand three hundred and thirty-one (254,331), is one of the highest on the African continent. Furthermore, many countries in the world, including several of the developed economies, are not implementing a policy of enhanced contact tracing, and this makes our data qualitatively different and more effective in the fight against COVID-19. Indeed, the success of our tracing, testing and treating will lead, in the end, to a reduction in the number of cases. That is what we are working for.
Understandably, much focus has been placed on the rise in the total number of confirmed cases. As at midnight of 13th June, the total number of positives, cumulatively, stands at eleven thousand, nine hundred and sixty-four (11,964), out of the two hundred and fifty-four thousand three hundred and thirty-one (254,331), tests conducted. We have a total of four thousand, two hundred and fifty-eight (4,258) patients who have fully recovered, have been discharged, and are now free of the virus. So, our scrutiny, in effect, must be on the number of active cases, i.e. people who remain on our books as still positive. Hence, as things stand now, the total number of people with the virus, that is active cases from our tests, is seven thousand, six hundred and fifty-two (7,652). Our positivity rate, i.e. the ratio of positive cases to total tests conducted, stands at 4.7%. In our hospitals and isolation centres, we currently have thirteen (13) persons severely ill, six (6) persons critically ill, with three (3) persons on ventilators.
Mercifully for us, by the grace of God, the number of COVID-19 related deaths, sad though each death is, continues to remain very low, one of the lowest in Africa and the world. With fifty-four (54) deaths currently reported by the Ghana Health Service thus far in Ghana, the ratio of deaths to positive cases stands at 0.4%, compared to the global average of 5.5%, and the African average of 2.6%. The number of severe and critically ill also continues to be low. I am relating all these figures not to engender any false, feel-good factor, but as statements of fact that must provide the context for us, when we examine our figures. If, indeed, we are to be guided by the data, then we must look at the data in all its ramifications, not just one particular aspect of them. That is the proper way to do justice to the data.
I am, thus, in no way suggesting that we should let our guard down, and throw out of the window the efforts we have made in bringing us this far, where we have become a reference point for many in the handling of this pandemic. On the contrary, as we begin to ease the restrictions, we must be even more disciplined in our adherence to the personal hygiene and social distancing measures we have become accustomed to, we must keep fit, and we must continue to eat our local foods to boost our immune systems. This is how we can prevent our healthcare services and our heroic healthcare workers from being overwhelmed, due to an increase in demand for hospital care.
Nevertheless, I implore you to pay attention to your health, when you begin to experience symptoms such as fever, persistent cough, bodily pains, loss of taste and smell, and difficulty in breathing, seek immediate medical attention at the nearest health facility. I remain concerned about the stigma associated with this disease. Stories of persons who have recovered from this disease, and being shunned by their own relatives and communities, are a source of considerable worry to me, because they undermine our efforts to fight it. There is nothing shameful about testing positive. We do not have to lose our sense of community because of this pandemic.
Government, through the Ghana Health Service, continues to monitor, on a daily basis, the spread of the virus, and has benchmarks of health outcomes, which define the mitigation measures that must be pursued to curb the spread of the disease, and enable us to reassess the easing of restrictions.
It is important for me to remind residents of the Greater Accra and Ashanti Regions, where the great majority of cases have been recorded, and in the Western and Central Regions, where we are seeing an increase in infection cases, to continue to adhere strictly to the social distancing and enhanced hygiene protocols announced. With the doctors and scientists telling us that the virus is transmitted from human contact, through talking, singing, coughing and sneezing, which results in sending droplets of the virus from one person to another, residents of these four regions, and, indeed, all Ghanaians, must remember that the wearing of masks is now mandatory. Leaving our homes without a face mask or face covering on is an offence. The Police have been instructed to enforce this directive, which is the subject of an Executive Instrument.
Let me repeat: our survival is in our own hands. If we are lax and inattentive, we will continue to have serious challenges with the virus. If we are mindful and self-disciplined, we have it in us to defeat this pandemic, and help return our lives to normalcy. I appeal to each and every one of you for your help in this regard. That is the surest way to realising our collective vision of building a new Ghanaian civilization where the rule of law is not a slogan, but a directive principle of state development; where we deliver social and economic transformation that has a meaningful impact on the lives of all our people; where a strong and vibrant economy creates jobs for the masses of our young people, and, in the process, creates a society of opportunities and aspirations for all; where we are no longer pawns nor victims of the world order; and where the vision of our founding fathers of a free, progressive and prosperous Ghana is attained. Let us, together, rise to the occasion, and fulfill our common destiny. We can do it!
In conclusion, permit me to pay brief tribute to the memory of an old and valiant colleague in the struggle of the New Patriotic Party and in the work of the Akufo-Addo government, the Mayor of Sekondi-Takoradi Metropolis, the Chief Executive of the Sekondi-Takoradi Metropolitan Assembly, Hon. K.K Sam, Egya Sam to me and many, whose efforts in enforcing social distancing protocols at the Sekondi and Takoradi markets were, recently, highly commended by me, and who sadly passed away on Friday, as a result of a COVID-related death. May his soul rest in perfect peace in the bosom of the Almighty until the Last Day of the Resurrection, when we shall all meet again. Let us also wish our hardworking Minister for Health, Hon. Kwaku Agyeman Manu, MP for Dormaa Central, a speedy recovery from the virus, which he contracted in the line of duty, and is a stable condition.
May God bless us all, and our homeland Ghana, and make her great and strong.