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.
Fellow Ghanaians, good evening.