Coronavirus: Why Ghana has gone into mourning after mass funeral ban

In our series of letters from African writers, journalist and former Ghana government minister Elizabeth Ohene writes about the dramatic impact coronavirus is having on life in her country and beyond.
If anyone had any doubt about just how serious the Covid-19 outbreak is, we now have proof positive, we are in the midst of a huge crisis.
This is a crisis not measured yet by how many people have been taken ill, or are in hospital or have died.
Here in Ghana, there are some things that are sacred in our lives and nobody touches them under any circumstance: religion, handshakes and funerals.
These are subjects that are not up for discussion and many people believe they define our very existence.
For weeks, government and health officials here have been warning everybody to improve personal hygiene and avoid crowds.
Many people preferred to think that the coronavirus would not make it into sub-Saharan Africa and therefore they believed the warnings by the health experts could be ignored.

'Only enemies refuse to shake hands'

Whoever heard of a Ghanaian, indeed, an African greeting another person and not shaking hands?
To refuse or ignore to shake hands with someone means that person is an enemy. Now we can't shake hands with anybody, friend or foe.
President Nana Akufo-Addo set the tone for the new rules at the celebrations of Ghana's 63rd independence anniversary on 6 March, when he ostentatiously kept both his hands resolutely behind his back when he arrived at the ceremony to greet those seated on the dais.
And as though the prohibition on handshaking was not traumatic enough, a ban has been put on the holding of funerals. The official announcement says there can be private burials, but no mass gatherings of mourners.

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