"These are uncertain times"
There is confusion, stress and a rush to catch up to what has become a world phenomena.
In Ethiopia, the issue of the coronavirus, which has overwhelmed the world’s best medical institutions is about to hit home and overwhelm the local vulnerable health care system that is under resourced with a population that is still ill informed, ill equipped, facing a dwindling medical supplies and income to protect themselves from the virus that has so far killed thousands of people in the world.
The government that had up until weeks ago had shown a lukewarm seriousness to its risk – allowing political assembly and mega fundraisers to go on inside the Millennium Hall - but this week, belatedly, put in restrictions, including directive to close pubs and restaurants early and discourage public assembly throwing the livelihoods of many up in the air.
While its business as usual in many parts of Addis Ababa, it has began to affect the lives of many people – in particular those at the lower end of Ethiopia’s once booming economy. In particular, restaurants, pubs and public places have begun to clear, with almost no traffic, putting the jobs of many in jeopardy.
At popular Mama’s Kitchen, it has not been business as usual. Many people are staying away, worried about a new virus that has interrupted the lives of many in the world and are expected to grow.
“Since the beginning of the week, we have begun to see slow business, about 10 customers who come in for lunch for our ‘tshome’ buffet”, a waitress at Mama’s Kitchen told The Reporter. “Many people are staying away from public restaurants, they seem too conscious when they walk in ours, run constantly to clean their hands in the restroom and even a simple cough worries them sick”.
At Occasion Café in Bole, in the rush hour of the morning when it’s supposed to be busy, on a Friday morning, it had only one walk-in customer while the place was unusually empty. She had a facial mask and gloves on when The Reporter visited as she grabbed her takeout coffee.
“I am what you call an essential staff, a nurse in a private hospital. I am required to work more so at this times and I want to work. But I am worried. I see people sick all the time, but the corona virus is new and we have no experience with it”, Senait Taddese said. “The country does not seem to have the right equipment's, the know-how to prevent its effects to a population that can barely afford to get good medical service and where the rich are used to go abroad while the rest is forced to do with what we have”.
The place had reduced its staff to the bare minimum with only one server.
In the busy area off Bole, known as Chechnya, last Sunday night when the government suddenly implemented its policy to close bars early, members of the Addis Ababa Police began to force the directive almost immediately. Dozens of pubs that are frequented by locals and tourists looking for cheap beer, easy sex and a glimpse of the magic of the capital in the dark were forced to close.
Where young girls in miniskirts with childish makeup attempt and cheap perfume used to frequent that area, it became a ghost town almost immediately. That also became the reality for the massage parlor that used the faces of actors to lure customers for ample choices, from a simple massage, to a Morocco Bath and much more.
The livelihoods of many people, who depended on these services, most had come to the capital from rural parts, looking for a rugs-to-reaches story made rather quickly inside cheap hourly rated hostels and higher risks to get viruses had diminished.
Not far from here, the music was playing in Queen of Sheba Restaurant and on stage was a frail looking legend, Getachew Kassa who sung to an empty room with a half dozen people that same night. The usual crowd that frequented the place was not there as the artist sung a slew of his classics and a man by the entrance held a sanitizer to customers that were no longer there.
“For me, whether it’s 1 or 1000 people or even 10, 000, it’s all the same and I will preform at good as I possibly can. But, I am worried by what this virus means for us. It has overwhelmed me and we hope it’s temporary. I am even worried to open my television and see the devastation in Italy and other places imagining and worried the devastation of others will be repeated here”, the artist said as he took a break from preforming on the side of the bar.
At Haile Resort in Sululeta, the busy resort where it is known to host Addis Ababa’s middle class, celebrities and world class athletes, the place looks abandoned. In fact, Tesfaye Asrat, general manager, who were stationed at the time The Reporter visited said, it was forced to reduce its staff to 30, sending the rest on paid leave.
“We are open with a skeleton staff and there are few customers and almost there is no movement of people. We are open for the sake of opening, at a loss”, he said.
The resort has 153 full time employees and all were relieved on paid leave.
True to form, a number of foreign local organizations are advising their people to stay in-doors and avoid public places as much as possible.
For instance, the US Embassy even warned its citizens to be aware of the risk of random attacks and sent a security alert.
“The Embassy continues to receive reports regarding a rise in anti-foreigner sentiment revolving around the announcement of COVID-19 in Ethiopia. “Typical derogatory comments directed at foreigners, the terms “China” and “Ferengi (Foreigner), have been reportedly coupled with the label “Corona” indicating a disparaging view of the link between the outbreak of COVID – 19 and foreigners in Ethiopia”, the statement said, adding, “Reports indicate that foreigners have been attacked with stones, denied transportation of services, being spat on, chased on foot, and been accused of being infected with COVID-19”.
GIZ, the German Developmental Arm of its Foreign Ministry was forced to dispatch its entire staff to the capital, including its interns for safety and offered them a courtesy flight home.
All through the city and beyond, price gouging has become the norm, with a sudden price increase and imitation products coming to play at exaggerated prices put in place to the attention of a panicked audience.
Neftalem Fikre, an entrepreneur, is worried some of these new products that have replaced the genuine products will not deliver what they promise.
“By law, all hand sanitizers should have a batch number, manufactured date and percentage of chemicals used. Many don’t have any of these, when they should”, Neftalem told The Reporter. “Including, what they are made of, the percentage of contents, batch number and we have no idea what we are ending up putting in our hands. We should be ware of these home-made sanitizers”.
“These are uncertain times”, he added.