(CNN) — President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana has lifted a three-week lockdown in two cities, citing improved coronavirus testing and the “severe” impact of the restrictions on the poor and vulnerable in the West African nation.
Nonessential businesses in Accra and Kumasi, the country’s two largest cities, can re-open Monday and residents can return to work but must continue to practice social distancing, he said.
In a televised address on Sunday, Akufo-Addo said the decision did not mean the government was letting its guard down, saying existing bans on public gatherings and school closure were still in place.
He urged Ghanaians to wear masks when going outside and to continue adhering to social distancing measures in public places.
Ghana has confirmed 1,042 cases, and nine people have died, according to Ghana’s Disease Surveillance Department on Monday.
Health authorities say they tested more than 68,000 samples, and officials are awaiting test results of 18,000 samples.
Drones used to transport samples to labs
Despite increasing cases, the president expressed confidence in the country’s preparedness and efforts to prevent the virus from spreading. He said numbers increased during the lockdown because health workers were able to “aggressively” trace and test contacts of infected persons.
Akufo-Addo said the government has begun using drones to transport samples to laboratories to improve turnaround time and it planned to scale up rapid tests across the country.
Authorities have been able to map cases and identify potential hotspots to detect asymptomatic cases to minimize the spread, he said.
“The majority of those infected in Ghana have mild to no symptoms at all, whilst a very small number have required hospital treatment of which nine persons with underlying illness have died,” the president said.
Ghana is the first to lift movement restrictions among a dozen countries in Africa that have imposed such strict measures to contain the spread of the virus.
Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda have announced lockdown extensions of at least two weeks as cases continue to rise.