Have the masks gone too soon?

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In Ghana, the expression “gone too soon” is a statement of sadness often accompanied by a photo of a person who has passed away in their prime. The same cannot be said of COVID-19 and its protocols. 

Whenever they depart, they will never be described as too soon. For almost two years now, we have had to wear masks as part of the regulations to counter the infection of the deadly virus which has ravaged the world and disrupted our normal way of life.

Ghana has suffered alongside the rest of the world, but even with our 161,000 infections and 1,445 deaths, in comparison with other nations and against the worst forecasts, we appear to have got off lightly. We have gone through the global cycles of peaks and troughs of different variants; we are currently enjoying one of our lowest figures since the pandemic was declared.

On Sunday, March 27 this year, President Akufo-Addo addressed the nation and made significant changes to the way the government had handled COVID-19 to date. Perhaps, the one statement that affected all of us was the declaration that mask-wearing was no longer mandatory. From the following day, to use a customised Ghanaian expression, it was no longer “by force” to wear a mask. The effect was immediate and had the effect of prisoners being reprieved.

To say that Ghanaians hate wearing mask would be the understatement of the decade. It took a lot of preaching, cajoling, persuasion and even the use of force to get a minority to wear masks regularly. If truth be told, in the rural areas, it is possible that no more than 20 per cent of people wore masks except when they would be denied access to places such as churches and some shops.

So, we may all be happy that we can enter shops, offices and churches without face masks but the question is: is it a good idea or is this the right time to take that step? In Ghana, the number of infections and deaths have not risen after the removal of those restrictions but events elsewhere may dictate that we tread cautiously.

On the very day the President lifted the mandatory use of face masks, the authorities in the Chinese city of Shanghai imposed a lockdown on the city because of rising numbers of infections. At its height, Shanghai recorded 26,087 new daily infections. As we know with COVID, when China sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold!

In the UK where Prime Minister Boris Johnson removed all restrictions about a week before we did, medical authorities have said that the restrictions could backfire when people go out more and mingle in crowds during the warmer months of late spring and summer. Although we see our warm climate as a blessing in the COVID-19 calculations, it could also be a negative factor if a severe outbreak occurs (touch wood).

My concern is that the blanket removal of the “by force” wearing of face masks may have come too early.
Wearing a face mask is not a bad idea. It is not only for the prevention of COVID-19. It is good for keeping all unwanted material out of our respiratory track and, particularly, useful for people with allergies.

I believe that although it may not be mandatory, messages encouraging its use must continue. Indeed, in order for the President’s last message not to be misunderstood as the declaration of the end of the pandemic in Ghana, the relevant authorities must continue to harp on the protocols because we are not out of the woods yet.

This is especially important in times of festivities and festivals. During this Easter, people will travel across Ghana and visitors will enter the country from places where the virus is still active or resurgent and we may be laying ourselves open without the protective barrier of masks.

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