High-Level Advisory Council on Corona virus

Recommendation for Urgent Action

March 31, 2019

A series of important documents were produced and released by the recently established Ethiopian Diaspora High Level Advisory Council on the COVID-19 Pandemic in Ethiopia. The Council, launched in the USA, is composed of experts in medicine, virology, public health, economics and law. The attached links outline a plan of action and various recommendations on measures to be taken to minimize the deleterious effects of COVID-19 on the Ethiopian public.

In a press conference on Sunday, President Trump came to terms with the dreaded realization that the death toll from the coronavirus (COVID-19) can surpass 100,000 in the US. What is more alarming is his acknowledgment that if protective measures, including social distancing, quarantining of suspected cases, and city- and state-wide lockdowns are not aggressively enforced, as many as 2 million Americans can perish.

As this realization has grown, so has the need for stricter enforcement of government sanctioned protective measures. For example, in the state of Maryland, businesses and individuals who fail to comply with the Governor’s directive to shut down dine-in restaurant services could be fined up to $5,000 or spend a year in jail. In the State of Florida, the police arrested a Florida pastor for holding church services despite a state-wide sanction against mass gathering.

Around the world, different countries have responded differently to the coronavirus. Countries that have mitigated COVID-19 infection rates and the resulting deaths are those who have institutionalized the universal wearing of masks, social distancing, quarantining of individuals exposed to the virus, and other protective measures and aggressively enforced them.

Singapore is a case in point. To date, it has registered 879 cases and 3 deaths. On the other hand, six weeks ago, Italy had only 3 cases, and today the number of infected Italians has surged past 100,000.  The death count has exceeded 11,500. What we can learn from Singapore and Italy is that early protective measures and the aggressive enforcement of them make a life and death difference. 

Though recent measures that the Ethiopian government has taken are encouraging, it appears the general public does not seem to pay heed to them. Social media is abuzz with news and pictures that some churches and mosques are still crowded, and tearooms and restaurants are conducting their business-as-usual affairs. People wearing face masks are few nd far in between. 

The government needs to find effective communication and enforcement mechanisms with the fierce urgency of now. We reiterate our recommendation in our Sunday’s Plan of Action to “Coordinate with religious leaders to institute enforceable plan of action for social distancing in their practice and among their faithful, including applying alternatives such as radio or electronic platforms instead of physical gatherings to deliver religious teachings.”

Moreover, businesses and other social gathering places where people meet for entertainment and leisure activities need to be reined in to comply with government policies and guidelines. It is also immensely essential to require and enforce the public to wear appropriate face masks. Until mask production reaches everyone, people must be required to use netela (ነጠላ), gabi (ጋቢ), hijab, or scarf.

As George Gao, head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention rightly stated “the big mistake” that countries who suffered greatly from the coronavirus committed was failing to institutionalize the wearing of masks as essential.  European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control recommends using “Cloth masks and mask sterilization as options in case of shortage of surgical masks and respirators.”

Ethiopia’s time to protect her citizens is today, not after the infection rates get out of hand. Given the country’s feeble health facilities and shortages of doctors, nurses and medical equipment, the consequences of lax enforcement of the protective measures can be catastrophic. 

We call upon the government to protect the public at large and the elderly and children in particular by aggressively enforcing all the directives and recommendations it has passed to date. We also note with emphasis that religious institutions, social establishments and the business community have moral and institutional obligations to cooperate with the government. 

Complying with government directives and sanctions is a life-or-death decision to individual citizens. Just as importantly it is extremely essential to the survival of society at large. 

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