This is probably the most difficult situation the world is going through in our times. The Corona virus is testing us all. Here in Ethiopia, the virus is showing insignificant gains, but everywhere Federal and regional governments are taking increasing measures to lock down their cities, and now close down their borders. People are scared, and are not sure what to think. Public health experts are confused. The virus doesn’t always act as you think it should.
Globally the number of casualties is showing rapid growth. In Italy deaths from coronavirus continue to soar. The number of casualties in the U.S. is already greater than those in China. Despite the rising number of cases in the world, so far the number of reported cases in Africa remains low. In Ethiopia the number of confirmed cases is still less than 30. I suppose this puts the country in Phase 1 of the pandemic, meaning that all the cases are people who recently returned to the country or came into direct contact with somebody else who had.
Looking at these figures how can Ethiopia be scared of COVID-19?
Four months since the outbreak, Ethiopia seems to be one of the few best places to ride out coronavirus. And yet the country is in partial lockdown. Unfortunately, an unintended, although perhaps expected, consequence of the lockdown has been virtual paralysis of large part of the economy.
In reality what we should be scared of is the loss of reason and wave of fear that has induced our leaders into taking drastic measures suffocating our communities economically. What we should be scared of is the impact of the decision of the regional states to put up more borders to kill our brotherhood spirit of compassion.
Yes, desperate times call for desperate measures, but guys (i.e. region presidents) no need to go into Total War mode… To the barricades!… locking down the economy and restricting travel for fear of importation of no cases and no carriers… doesn’t make sense!!
Rather worry at the lack of coordination between the Federal, regional states, and our failure to enroll the Kebeles to prepare them to deal with such unexpected emergency. Worry that lessons are not being shared to make it easier to defeat the virus. Worry about how to make the COVID-19 test widely available. Worry at the lack of any clear strategy on whether to continue current social isolation measures…. Beside, do we know if they even work?
The only effective long-term solution against the coronavirus is a coordinated response at the federal level with a clearer statement of the goals of its activity, good judgments, and an understanding of the facts.
Right now, I believe the country needs to coordinate in six key ways:
1. Agree on the type of lockdown that is needed – if indeed anything is needed.
2. Look at all appropriate sources to get the basic equipment and material needed (masks, gloves, testing equipment etc.) to fight the coronavirus.
3. Avoid, and where necessary correct, exaggerated portrayals of the coronavirus crisis. Such exaggeration runs counter to the interest of citizens, because it leads to paranoia.
4. Encourage people to be frugal, and hunker down while reaching out to others.
5. Mobilize and build capacities of kebeles and organized communities to take lead if, and when, the need to contain the spread of the disease and strengthen solidarity within communities arises.
6. Ensure a gradual return to normal working life, so the behavior known as “social distancing” may stick around.
This is a funny war. Even though not that many are dying from the Covid 19 – compared to the 2002-03 SARS epidemic, caused by a different coronavirus – the measures taken to combat it are killing the economy. Surely, here in Ethiopia, if we don’t start getting people back to work over the next one to two weeks, we may not have an economy to return to.