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COVID-19 Spikes in Lead Up to Ghana’s Election

FILE - Supporters of the New Patriotic Party cheer on the street after President Nana Akufo-Addo filed his nomination forms for the 2020 presidential election at the Electoral Commission Head Office in Accra, Ghana, Oct. 6, 2020.

Ghana has been lauded for its COVID-19 response and a fairly low death toll of 323 people. Total cases have now surpassed 50,000, however, and the president recently warned citizens to stay vigilant. Experts fear that cases will increase as political parties go into full campaign mode ahead of the December 7 vote.

Ghana’s Health Service recently estimated that more than 80% of Ghanaians are not wearing face masks, a drastic drop from previous compliance levels.

Last month, President Nana Akufo-Addo urged Ghanaians to put on the masks during rallies for the December 7 election. But at campaign events across the nation, for both Akufo-Addo’s New Patriotic Party and the opposition National Democratic Congress, supporters are flouting the rules.

As she waited for the president to show up for an outdoor campaign event in Accra, Cynthia Asiamah said it was frustrating to see other supporters without their masks.

“Some people are not wearing the nose masks, but they don’t listen — seriously — they don’t listen to their president, because [the] president told us everybody must wear the nose mask first,” she said.

Some political organizers are taking precautions, holding events outdoors or online. Some hold health walks instead of traditional rallies.

Public health expert Nana Kofi Quakyi said it was “wishful thinking,” though, to believe the large outdoor gatherings would not increase risks, especially given the low compliance to social distancing and mask-wearing.

“Yes, they are outdoors, so they are less risky than they would be if they were indoors, but that doesn’t mean they’re safe. By virtue of that fact — by virtue of the fact it’s not a zero-risk scenario — the more of those that happen, with more acute conditions around mask-wearing, distancing and ventilation, you would expect to see some marginal contribution to the infection rates,” said Quakyi.

Quakyi said the false belief that COVID-19 usually doesn’t have a major impact on health has led some Ghanaians to take more risks.

Ghanaian sports journalist Gary Al-Smith is trying to spread the word that for many who survive the virus, there can be long-term effects.

He was infected with COVID-19 while reporting on it and documented his recovery.

“If your inclination is that you have COVID for 14 to 21 days and after that, you will be fine, but you get to know the realities, as in my case. I had headaches constantly for two months; I could not take 10-minute walks because after five minutes I was completely blown away, I was completely finished,” said Al-Smith.

He said he often feels like a "broken record" when he speaks about COVID-19, finding a widespread lack of interest in hearing about the virus now, especially as the election has taken center stage.