Ethiopia Closes Land Border, Deploys Troops to Combat Virus

 

Ethiopia closed its land borders and deployed security forces as it steps up measures to control the spread of the coronavirus, with 11 confirmed cases in the Horn of Africa nation.

The restrictions don’t apply to the movement of essential goods, the Office of the Prime Minister said in a statement.

While government departments and political parties are still able to meet, some will implement work-from-home plans, according to the statement. It called on people to observe social distancing protocols.

“The National Defense Forces and police are to undertake internal preparations and preventive tasks nationally,” it said.

Curbs on public transport, including Addis Ababa’s rail network, have reduced the daily number of travelers by more than half to 50,000, the Ministry of Transport said.

The government has allocated 5 billion birrs ($151 million) to fight the virus and is appealing to international developmental institutions and G-20 nations for support, the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corp. reported, citing Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

All passengers arriving in Ethiopia are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine at government-designated centers at their own personal cost.

Ethiopia is considering whether it can hold elections as scheduled in August as the coronavirus epidemic spreads.

“If we can control the disease and get through it in a short time like China did, then elections would be held on schedule. This is preferable,” Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said in a televised address to the public on Saturday.

The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia asked its employees to work from home on March 16 after one of its technical advisers showed coronavirus symptoms; the test results returned negative, the board said.

In a meeting with 45 political parties on Friday, the board discussed contingency plans, the board said in a statement. The election is scheduled for Aug. 29, while voter registration and election campaigns start on April 22 and May 28 respectively.

China’s mass deployment of medical aid to fight the coronavirus reached Africa as Ethiopia received its first shipment of supplies, including protective gear and test kits, for distribution across the continent from billionaire Jack Ma.

The Horn of Africa nation received 5.4 million face masks, more than 1 million testing kits, 40,000 items of protective clothing and 60,000 sets of face shields, China’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Jack Ma’s foundation said in a statement Sunday. More medical supplies are expected over the next few weeks.

“Getting these donations to all 54 African countries, with diverse geographic conditions and different levels of infrastructure, is a great logistical and transportation challenge,” the foundation said. “We are working around the clock to make the delivery as fast as possible.”

Ethiopia’s Health Ministry will coordinate the distribution together with the national carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, and with support from the World Food Programme and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said separately. Abiy announced a week ago he’d struck a deal with Ma.

Although the spread of the virus has been relatively slow in Africa, the number of people who tested positive have climbed to about 1,000 in more than 40 countries.

Still, the consequences of the pandemic will be “catastrophic due to the continent’s weak health care systems, including inadequate surveillance and laboratory capacity, scarcity of public health human resources, and limited financial means,” said Abiy.