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Business as Usual
The Megenagna Roundabout animated with its signature hustle and bustle on Friday, 27 March 2020, as the number of COVID-19 cases take a leap to reach 16

Business as Usual

We live in the time of Coronavirus; never before had the world faced such an unprecedented danger, from anything. This uniquely resilient and viral infection is conquering the world at an astonishing speed. How? It is going after the most human thing that one can think of - social life.

Seen in the above picture, which was taken on Friday, March 27, 2020, Addis Ababans are seen going about their daily lives, as usual, paying no heed to the warning of government and global health leadership bodies as to the dangers of congestion and not respecting social distancing rules such as keeping a minimum of a two-meter space with others and avoiding touching one another including handshakes. Days ago, President Sahle-work Zewde has expressed her concern about the sheer disregard for social distancing rules in many parts of the city.

However, this problem appears to be a global one at best. According to reports, many countries including worst-hit Italy and Spain are said to have been paying the price for less attention to social distancing rules and largely circumventing stay-home protocols by holding mini in-house gatherings which appear to have speeded up the spread of the virus more quickly. Recent incidents in the US as well attest to the same facts where students, who were told to remain home to abate the spread of the virus, were seen partying on beaches in mass as if it is a public holiday.

On the other hand, there is some confusion even at the level of the political leadership in some countries. For instance, US President Donald Trump is heard rolling back on the unified voice of his administration to urge people to stay home and exercise social distancing saying; “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself” referring to the impact the lockdown is having on the economy.

Yet again, the general public in Addis Ababa is lacking in awareness of the dangers of socializing at the time of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases spike, the Ethiopian government is intensifying its measures to control the spread of the deadly pathogen that brought the world to its knees.

After the Ethiopian Public Health Institute (EPHI) announced that it has four newly detected cases, today, Friday March 27, 2020, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) announced a set of measures that would help the country cope up with the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the highest number of cases in a day that Ethiopia officially confirmed since confirming the first case on March 13, 2020, bringing the total confirmed cases up to 16 in the country.

Two of the four new confirmed cases, a 72-year-old Mauritian citizen, and 28-year-old Ethiopian have travel histories. The former returned from Congo Brazaville and the later from Israel very recently. But, the two, a 61-years-old Ethiopian resident of Adama town and the 24-year old Ethiopian do not have any travel history that can be traced back. Government officials are scrambling to identify people who had contacts with these individuals; while the business from Adama is known to have frequent encounter with foreigners as part of his work, the authorities are yet to identify the people who have come into contact with her and as to how she may have contracted the virus. Nevertheless, the latter two cases could be indicators of the start of a community transmission of COVID-19 in Ethiopia despite the previously confirmed cases that were imported.

Ethiopia’s confirmed cases were identified out of the total tested 718 individuals as of March 27, 2020, according to EPHI.

Meanwhile, the African Union Commission confirmed that one individual has contracted the virus and has been quarantined along with the AU Commissioner Moussa Faki Mahamat; the later largely a precautionary measure.

Consequently, Abiy’s COVID-19 message carried six different “key measures and calls for action” according to a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office. The first of these measures, according to the statement, is “recent arrivals to Addis Ababa who cannot afford to be quarantined in the various hotels identified, will be transferred to Adama Science and Technology University (ASTU) for the 15 days mandatory quarantine period upon arrival.”

While extending school closures for an additional two weeks, the statement warned religious institutions to halt rituals immediately before the government engages in to forceful stoppage of these gatherings. It also called upon retired medical practitioners and medical students to get ready for “national duty if the situation warrants such extra support.”

The government also announced that it has prepared 134 facilities for quarantine, isolation, and treatment also calling upon all citizens for increased engagement to support the national resource mobilization committee to equip the facilities with the necessary material like blankets, beds, bed sheets as well as medical equipment.

Intending to tackle the economic impacts of the pandemic, the government has eliminated the tax on imports that would help “prevention and containment” of the virus in addition to directing the central bank to avail 15 billion birr (USD 428.6 million) for private banks so that they could provide loan extensions and additional credits to their customers. The Banks in return are expected to provide priority in forex allocation for sectors that import COVID-19 prevention materials. To decrease physical interaction, the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE) is ordered to increase the ceiling for mobile money transfer.

CBE Birr payment method has a maximum deposit limit of 25,000 birr with a maximum allowed daily debit transaction of 6000 birr a day per person according to the June 16, 2017, CBE birr Procedure.

Mobile banking's maximum daily debit transaction is 200,000 birr a day per person. The maximum amount per transaction has a ceiling of 100,000 birr according to the Bank’s E-payment procedure issued in October 2016. ATM transaction allows a maximum withdrawal of 10,000 birr a day per person.

The floor price set by the National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE) for flower exports has also been removed and the Ministry of Revenues will “expedite VAT returns” to enable businesses to cope up with liquidity challenges.