While in other parts of the world, authorities labored to convince some religious groups about the dangers of the pandemic, in Ethiopia two major religions Christianity and Islam took no time to join the fight against the coronavirus or COVID-19.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed-led government also obliged them, by relaxing broadcast rules and directed four government-run TV stations to reserve prime time slots for the leaders of these two faiths to deliver lectures and lead prayers. Ethiopian law did not allow religious programs on national television.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Danial Kibret, an advisor of the prime minister said the move was aimed to let believers pray from their homes and avoid any religious gathering.
The Inter-Religious Council of Ethiopia (IRCE), established in 2010 to promote tolerance and address common concerns was roped in to help believers to continue prayers from their homes and engage them in the fight against the pandemic.
Bekele Muleta, the chief executive officer of Fana Broadcasting Corporation, said his organization has reserved a one-hour evening prime time for both the religious groups.
‘’The program involves religious teachings, prayers, and lessons about necessary precautions to combat COVID-19. Our feedback tells that the viewers of both religions were satisfied, “he said.
Director-General of Ethiopian Broadcast Authority Getachew Dinku said the shows are reaching to 60%-70% population, who have TV sets. Dinku, who is also a member of the National Coronavirus Campaign Committee said they have suggested a code of conduct to prevent unnecessary competition and negative messages.
According to census data, Christians account for 62.8% while Muslims comprise 43.5 percent of the country’s 109 million population. Dominant Christian groups include Ethiopian Orthodoxy, Pentay and Roman Catholic.
Religion powerful institutions
Berhanu Aseged, a religious scholar believed that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has been one of the powerful institutions capable of organizing and influencing its followers in every sphere of public life.
‘’During a crisis, as said in the biblical maxim, Ethiopia shall stretch forth her hands unto God. This is the strong belief that gives us confidence in defeating coronavirus pandemic,” he said.
Sheik Abdelaziz Mohammed, the Imam of Bilal al-Habashi mosque in the capital Addis Ababa said that prayers and healthy life were the cornerstones of Islam.
‘’Our wellbeing and the knowledge to maintain our health was prescribed in the Holy Quran, and rests in the hands of Allah,’’ Mohammed added.
Ethiopian Muslims had brought about God’s mercy and interventions in times of pandemics and another crisis. ‘’It is within this spirit we are participating in the televised payer and spreading awareness, “he said.
Churches and mosques in the landlocked country have indefinitely suspended regular services. Schools and universities which have more than 25 million students remain shut with most of the employees working from their homes.
According to the Health Ministry, some 4 000 people have been tested after a door to door screening was launched in some parts of the country. So far 85 infected cases have been detected with three deaths, as per the data compiled by the U.S.-based John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre.
But what is staring at everybody’s face is that the pandemic that has killed thousands in rich countries could play havoc in the region which has little health infrastructure.
Abebe Gelaw, 65, a retired government employee said the pandemic had already started tearing apart the social fabric.
‘’The pandemic had forced on us social distancing. It is a must preventive method. But we live in a world of sharing stories, meals, happiness, and grief. How long we live like this?” he asked, shaking his head in disbelief.
Mesafint Abebe, a medical practitioner said there are serious concerns despite well-organized government intervention.
‘’Risky behaviors and lifestyles are not changing. Health officials are worried that the current infection rate could increase fast and become uncontrollable,’’ he said, adding that there is a window of opportunity to learn from global experience and the slow infection and death rates.
‘’We have to design a messaging that resonates with all and also to enforce social distancing and other preventive methods,’’ he noted.
Earlier last week, Addis Ababa denied landing rights to a Saudi Airlines plane that was carrying Ethiopian nationals without prior notification. Ethiopia had asked Saudi authorities to stop repatriating its citizens in times of coronavirus pandemic, said an official requesting anonymity, as he was not authorized to talk to media.
‘’Saudi authorities refused to note Ethiopia’s reasonable request and continued sending people every day,’’ he said. The official added that Addis Ababa tried its best to avoid diplomatic spat with Saudi Arabia.
Quoting Zewudu Assefa, an officer with the Ethiopian Health Institute, local news channels reported that as many as 300-500 people were cramped in the Saudi flight.
“Ethiopia has so far received 2,870 people who had been quarantined for 14 days. Some of them tested positive,” said Assefa.
As Saudi officials are determined to continue deporting a large number of Ethiopians, health officials fear that the quarantine centers would be unable to house so many people.
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