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Fighting COVID-19: Wear mask, maintain social distance

BY: Timothy Ngnenbe
Traders at the COCOBOD area in accra Central go about their activities without face masks or social distancing
Traders at the COCOBOD area in accra Central go about their activities without face masks or social distancing

It is called face mask and meant to be worn to cover the mouth and nose.

It is not meant to hang around the ears, coiled round the neck, or worn on the chin.By the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations, one must “cover mouth and nose with mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask.”

This is believed to be one of the major ways of preventing the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) that has turned the world upside down.

According to health experts, the wearing of face masks prevent potential carriers of COVID-19 from discharging mucous, saliva and other fluids that could suspend in the air or end up on surfaces and serve as avenues for the spread of the virus.

Face masks also serve as a protective shield for users from contracting the virus, which uses the mouth, nose and eyes as entry points into the body.

It is for this reason that the moves by the government local authorities to make the wearing of face masks mandatory for all persons, are steps in the right direction.

No face masks

However, while some people have quickly adjusted to the new culture to help in fighting the pandemic, others are still holding on to the old ways of doing things.

Some of them will simply not put on a face mask, while others pretend to be wearing it as they leave it hanging around their ears; coiled around their necks; or wrapped on their chin. Interestingly, other people hold it in their hands and walk about, while others keep it in their bags.

In my interaction with some of these people, they had flimsy excuses ranging from not having money to buy a mask; difficulty in breathing through the masks, to disbelieving that the virus even exists.

For instance, Majeed Rufai, a 46-year-old man I encountered around the Abossey Okai Traffic Light in Accra last week held a nose mask in his hands instead of wearing it.

In our interaction, he said he could not breathe properly if he had the mask on. “I have breathing difficulty each time I wear the mask, so I barely put it on.

The only reason why I decided to hold it is that I heard that the city authorities will not allow anyone without a mask on to go to some places or access some services,” he added.

Maame Adwoa, a middle age lady, also had a similar story. When I met her at Sabolai, the onion market located at Agbogbloshie, she had her mask wrapped around her neck as she walked along.

I enquired from her why she was not wearing it; and she said “I feel uncomfortable wearing it, so I decided to keep it on my neck so that if I get into a crowd of people and have to put it on, I can easily do so.”

Maame Adwoa and Rufai are among thousands of other people in Accra who will give one flimsy reason or the other for not wearing a mask. They sit in commercial vehicles; go to market centres; and carry out their daily businesses without face masks as required of them.

Social distancing

According to the United States (US) Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ‘Social distancing’, also called ‘physical distancing’, means keeping space between yourself and other people outside of your home.

The centre recommends that to practise social distancing, one needs to stay at least two metres away from other people; avoid gathering in groups; stay out of crowded places and avoid mass gatherings.

The CDC and other health experts explain that social distancing is particularly important in tackling COVID-19 because the virus mainly spreads among people who are in close contact (within about two feet) for a longer time.

Health experts say the spread of COVID-19 happens when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks, and droplets from their mouth or nose are released into the air and land in the mouths or noses of people nearby.

They add that the droplets can also be inhaled into the lungs.

It is in compliance with this that President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo on March 14, this year, announced the suspension of all public gatherings in the country.

Among other things, the President banned services in churches and mosques; political rallies; public funerals, conferences and workshops. In that same directive, the President ordered the closure of all private and public educational institutions beginning March 16, this year.

He also ordered the partial lock down of Accra; Kumasi; Tema and Kasoa for two weeks.

This was extended for one more week until it was lifted on April19.

One would have expected that after the easing of the movement restrictions, people would have the fear of God in them and adhere strictly to social distancing measures in their own interest. But this is not the case.

 

These young men at the Old Fadama slum are palying oware, with no regard to the safety protocols on COVID-19

 Violations

One only needs to visit market centres such as the Central Business District (CBD) of Accra; Agbogbloshie; or the Kwame Nkrumah Circle and come to terms with how many people have thrown caution to the wind as far as social distancing is concerned. A number of visits to these markets showed that traders are violating the social distancing protocols with impunity.

For instance, on one of my visits to the Konkomba Yam Market at Agbogbloshie, business was briskly going on without recourse to the observation of social distancing protocols.

The hustle and bustle was enormous as head porters popularly called "Kayayee" were seen carrying head loads of yam from one point of the market to the other while young men busily offloaded yams from trucks and tricycles.

Other actors in the yam retail business in the market were busily trying to outdo each other as they courted patrons. The greater number of them wore no face masks

The same could be said about the Agbogbloshie Market and CBD of Accra where the traders mingled and carry out their activities in a choked, crowded environment; with just a few of them properly wearing face masks.

Meanwhile, hundreds of beggars are still in active business along the Abossey Okai-Zongo Junction area. Without regard for social distancing, they have turned the frontage of stores and shoulders of the road into their homes.

Call to action

With Ghana’s COVID-19 confirmed cases now exceeding 6,000 as of Monday, May 25, 2020, it is crystal clear that a strict enforcement regime of the social distancing and face mask wearing protocols is needed from the government and city authorities.

Some metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies (MMDAs) have made known their intentions to enforce the COVID-19 safety protocols to halt the spread of the virus.

This must not be another talk-show; they must walk the talk.

While enforcement is key, the National Commission for Civic Education, the MMDAs, the Information Service Department, traditional rulers and other stakeholders must step up COVID-19 education to engender attitudinal change from members of the public.

Even as the stakeholders do their part, we must be personally responsible for our safety by religiously adhering to the safety protocols.

Remember, if you have nothing important to do in town, stay at home; and if you must go out, wear your face mask.

 

These traders at the Central Business District of Accra have thrown caution to the wind and are doing their own thing

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