Italians have been dying in staggering numbers ever since the Coronavirus outbreak was reported there due, among others, to their failure to take the necessary measures in time to contain the spread of the contagion. Italy deserves special mention because it has become the deadliest center of the pandemic. According to data released by Johns Hopkins University at the time of going to press, the death toll from the pandemic stood at over 9,000 out of confirmed cases of more than 80,500. Italians are warning others to learn from them the horrifying cost of complacency. They are now saying that the virus became widespread because they continued to frequent restaurants, bars and nightclubs in blatant disregard of a nationwide lockdown. If the adage “The wise learn from the mistakes of others; fools don’t learn from theirs” is not to ring true in Ethiopia, it’s critically important to maintain physical distancing and stop as one the existential threat the pandemic poses. It would be akin to trying to clap with one and though if the efforts to beat it back are not coordinated and properly implemented. Otherwise, the kind of lockdown other countries have introduced could well be enforced here as well.
Now more than ever before Ethiopians from all walks of life need to understand that they owe an obligation to arrest the spread of COVID-19 by refraining from shaking hands; regularly washing one’s hands thoroughly with water and soap or using hand sanitizers; maintaining a physical distance of at least 2 meters from other persons; avoiding places where crowds gather; and stopping the circulation of baseless speculations about the disease and desisting from disseminating same. Despite the ongoing sensitization about how to tackle one of, if not the worst, global public health hazard in modern history through various means, the level to which Ethiopians have grasped the gravity of the problem and are acting accordingly is shocking to say the least. Physical distancing is simply being not practiced. The number of people using or going to places of worship and entertainment, eateries, public transport vehicles, markets, and social gatherings has barely gone down. And the public tends to leave everything to the Almighty instead of abiding by commons sense measures that need no reminding. Such complacency is dangerous and potentially spells a catastrophe.
The rate at which the Coronavirus is spreading has overwhelmed the world. At the beginning of the week the World Health Organization (WHO) disclosed that in the first 67 days of the outbreak, there were a total of 100,000 cases. This number then doubled over the next 11 days and tripled in the four days after that. As of the time we went to press this figure had soared to more than 566,600 with the number of dead rising to over 25,000. As the virus wreaks havoc across the world it’s ill-advised to display recklessness and thereby bring on Ethiopia a crisis the likes of which it has never seen. None of us should lose sight of the fact that the public health emergency preparedness and response plan, healthcare infrastructure, and availability of health professionals and equipment of the nation is weak and untested. Consequently, it’s particularly incumbent on religious leaders to impress up on the laity the importance of implementing the recommendations or mandatory orders issued by the relevant health authorities and the government. Moreover, they should use their authority to persuade those acting irresponsibly to come to their senses before their carelessness causes irreparable harm. Otherwise, Ethiopia is bound to suffer the same, if not worse, fate as the most affected countries.
As Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) said unless the necessary precautionary measures are taken immediately, the number of confirmed cases is bound to surge from the current two digits to three or four digits within a short space of time. The government, health authorities and concerned compatriots are warning that if Ethiopia is not to go down the path of the likes of Italy it’s obligatory to put an immediate stop to the massing of people in narrow spaces still prevalent in many parts of the country. The premier’s administration needs to conduct more rounds of discussions with religious leaders on the imperative to end the overcrowding of places of worship. The leaders on their part have to appreciate the seriousness of the pandemic and take the requisite action with a sense of urgency. While Ethiopians are a people whose life is characterized by a close interaction with each other they ought to realize that ignoring the measures being taken globally to stymie the virus’s spread is tantamount to sentencing oneself to death. Ethiopians cannot isolate themselves from the rest of the world in this modern day and age and as such must learn from others who have succeeded in tackling the scourge before it got out of hand.
Despite repeated warnings that failing to abide by physical distancing in accordance with universally prescribed standards is liable to obstruct the fight against COVID-19, the general public’s act belies its awareness about this vital and yet simple preventive measure. It may take up to 14 days before the coronavirus infection flares into symptoms, such as fever and dry cough. During that incubation period, asymptomatic patients may potentially transmit it. Experts are of the belief that it is this so-called “stealth transmission” that has driven the rapid spread of the outbreak, infecting communities that remain unaware until they develop symptoms and get tested. The likelihood of such a scenario playing out in Ethiopia is high in view of the general population’s reluctance to properly practice physical distancing. Daily, aside from intercity buses, minibus taxis and light rail trains moving hundreds of thousands of commuters daily in the capital Addis Ababa, thousands of transboundary buses carry passengers hundreds of kilometers to and from the city across the nation. At this difficult period the government is duty-bound to curb such movement. With the exception of freight trucks hauling essential goods banning passenger buses from roads until the momentarily can go a long way towards curtailing the spread of the virus. If the specter of a devastation being wrought on Ethiopia by COVID-19 is to be averted Ethiopians owe the duty to voluntarily practice physical distancing. Otherwise, there would be no option but to enforce a nationwide lockdown.