A/R: Disregard for safety protocols; a looming danger?

“I have been dealing in second-hand clothing for 5 years but switched to the production and sales of reusable and disposable face mask in June 2020 due to its high demand. I channeled all my investment in the face mask business and benefitted enormously”, said Usman Sumaila, a trader at Kumasi central market.

President Akufo-Addo through an Executive Instrument on June 14, 2020, made the wearing of face masks mandatory following the surge of COVID-19 cases in Ghana – from 2 cases in March 12 to 11,422 cases.

Arrest for non compliance with mandatory nose mask wearing

“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, 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,” the President said at the time.

According to paragraph 4(2) of E.I. 164, any person who fails to comply with the mandatory wearing of nose masks shall be punished in accordance with Section 6 of Act 1012.

Per Section 6 of Act 1012, “a person who fails to comply with the restrictions imposed under the Executive Instrument issued under subsection 1 of Section 2 commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of not less than 1,000 penalty units (GHS12,000) and not more than 5,000 penalty units (GHS 60,000) or to a term of imprisonment not less than four years and not more than 10 years or to both.”

With this directive, most Ghanaians made sure they do not step out of their homes without the mask on.

Some few recalcitrant citizens who flouted the face mask directives were arrested to serve as deterrent to others. In the Ashanti regional capital, Kumasi, over 200 persons were arrested between June 15 and August 20, 2020.

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The city at that time was one of the epicenters of the virus with daily new cases of 30. Kumasi metro remains top of the COVID-19 table with a cumulative case count of 4,401 as at May 20, 2021.

Almost half of the traders at the Kumasi central market and other markets in the Ashanti regional capital cashed in as they either combined their businesses with the sale of face mask or switched entirely to the sale of face masks.

Contrary to the dip in global businesses, vendors of personal protective equipment like 28-year-old Usman Sumaila profited from the emergence of the deadly virus.

“Prior to COVID, I was making not more than GHC 500 as profit in the sales of second-hand clothes but when I veered into the business of nose mask and hand sanitizer during the peak of the virus, I was getting an average of 2,000 cedis in a month as profit”, Sumaila told Ibrahim Abubakar.

Usman Sumaila

Fast-forward May 2021, the lucrativeness in the business of face mask and sanitizer has disappeared. This is due to the increasing disregard in the safety protocols across the country.

A box of surgical nose mask which was sold for GHC180 in June 2020 is now being sold at GHC5. 

“I have switched back to the sales of the second-hand clothing and concentrating on other venture because the business of nose mask and sanitizer is not enticing again. Most people are no more buying sanitizers or wearing the nose mask. I think the non-adherence to the safety protocols is because of the existence of COVID vaccine”, Sumaila indicated.

In the central business district of Kumasi, few people can be seen wearing nose masks despite the slash in prices.

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“Wearing the mask for hours is difficult for me. I can’t even breathe well when I have it on that’s why I’m not wearing one”, a trader said.

“If the virus was as deadly as people say, all of us would’ve been dead by now. I can’t wear a nose mask and walk under this scorching sun. I’ll even suffocate”, Agyapong thought.

Even with the arrival of vaccines for the virus in the country, the public is advised to continue adhering to all the safety protocols including washing of hands and using of hand sanitizers at regular intervals, and the wearing of nose mask.

“Even after vaccination, one needs to continue taking all precautions because the first dose does not guarantee full protection. So, it is important we all continue to follow all the safety measures. It is worrying how people are now disregarding almost all the protocols because we are not out of woods yet”, Ashanti region director of health services, Dr Emmanuel Tinkorang noted.

Dr Emmanuel Tinkorang

The United States of America and some European countries as well as India continue to face the brunt of the virus. After they were slammed with the first wave, a second and third wave worsened their situation.

In India, the numbers moved from bad to worse with over 400,000 new infections daily. The total fatalities in India have now crossed the 320,000 mark with 2.2 million active cases and an average of 3,500 deaths per day, according to worldometers.info.

Wionews.com reports, in April 2020, the United States was reporting more than 32,000 cases, then the curve flattened but in July new infections climbed up again.

At its peak, the US was reporting more than 70,000 cases in July 2020 which is almost double the number of cases compared to the first wave. After this, America’s numbers kept going up during the third wave.

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By January this year, the US was reporting almost 300,000 cases a day as new infections increased nine times, the same was with fatalities.

During the first wave in April 2020, the US reported more than 2,000 deaths and by January 2021, that’s around the peak of the third wave, America was reporting around 4,000 deaths in a day. The deaths doubled by the third wave. 

In April 2020, Europe was reporting around 35,000 new cases a day and 3,000 deaths per day.

It was the first wave and by November 2020, Europe was gripped by the second wave as new infections zoomed past 300,000 with 6,000 deaths per day. The second and third wave further pushed the daily deaths to 7,000.

Even though both USA and Europe are now taming the virus with vaccination, public health experts fear there could be a fourth wave.

Although Ghana has not been hit hard with the second and third wave of the virus, health authorities continue to admonish the public to abide by all the safety protocols.

As at May 17, 2021 Ghana has recorded a cumulative 93,521 cases with 91,458 recoveries and 783 deaths. Active case stood at 1,280. 852,047 out of the targeted 20 million people have so far been vaccinated. 

Ashanti region is second on the COVID-19 table after Greater Accra with 15,550 cases and 253 deaths.

The region currently has an active case of 35.

324 persons in the region were vaccinated in the first phase. 150,000 vaccines were received in the region for the second phase.

Those vaccinated include the aged, people with underlining health conditions, health workers, government officials, and the media.

By Ibrahim Abubakar

The writer is a Mentee under the Mobilizing Media to Fighting COVID-19 project by Journalists for Human Right