The Eritrean government announced today that it has the Coronavirus.
Announcement from the Ministry of Health
A 39-year old Eritrean national who has permanent residence in Norway arrived at Asmara International Airport at 7:00 a.m. today, March 21st, from Norway with Fly Dubai.
The patient exhibited symptoms of Coronavirus (COVID-19) at the screening process in the airport. He was quarantined promptly and diagnosed positive for COVID-19 after subsequent tests at the National Health laboratory.
The patient is receiving all necessary treatment.
Ministry of Health
21 March 2020
Making this public is a good first step, but is nowhere near enough
The experience across the world is that for every case that is confirmed, there are many that are still to be found – and this virus can spread like wildfire.
Eritrea is one of the poorest countries, with few of the amenities needed to fight this scourge. Worse still, last year the government took over or closed down some of the best clinics and hospitals – run by the Catholic Church.
Five steps that can be taken immediately
First Eritrea can follow the excellent Rwandan example. Since March Rwanda has guarded against the spread of Coronavirus by flooding its capital with portable sinks for hand-washing at bus stops, restaurants, banks and shops across the capital Kigali.
Washing hands thoroughly (including the backs of hands and thumbs) with soap and water regularly is one of the best ways of killing the virus.
Second Eritrea needs to urgently free the thousands of prisoners held indefinitely in its jails. Many have been imprisoned for years without trial; many are political prisoners.
As Human Rights Watch reported: “Thousands of prisoners detained arbitrarily languish indefinitely in overcrowded places of detention, including underground cells and shipping containers, exposed to the sun during the day and freezing temperatures at night, with inadequate food, water, and medical care.” These are perfect conditions for Coronavirus to spread in.
Only the most serious criminals should not be freed – with the space made available by releasing the others used to keep them a safe distance from each other.
Third Eritrea needs to halt the system of indefinite National Service and release the conscripts. The annual rounds of enforced recruitment and the training at Sawa needs to stop, and recruits freed.
This is what Human Rights Watch said about the conditions in the camp. “Since 2003, the government has forced all students to complete Grade 12 education at the Warsai Yekalo Secondary School and Vocational Training Center inside Sawa military training camp. The camp is like a large prison, surrounded by barbed wire fencing and guarded by soldiers. Students sleep in hangars surrounded by fencing and under military guard. The camp also accommodates a vocational training center.”
Like the prisons, these are perfect conditions to allow Coronavirus to spread.
Fourth Eritreans need to temporarily stop their traditional greeting. It is one of the nicest aspects of Eritrean culture – greeting each other with their right shoulders meeting in a form of a hug. It’s a gesture of friendship and warmth.
But getting this close with Coronavirus is asking for trouble. Until it is over it’s vital to not to greet friends and relatives this way – keep a safe distance.
Social distancing is a tool public health officials recommend to slow the spread of a disease that is being passed from person to person. Simply put, it means that people stay far enough away from each other so that the Coronavirus cannot spread from one person to another.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes social distancing as staying away from mass gatherings and keeping a distance of 6 feet or 2 meters – about one body length – away from other people.
Firth Eritrea needs to urgently remove the restrictions on the media, reconvene its National Assembly, lift the restrictions on freedom of assembly, speech and political parties.
One thing is certain: this virus thrives on secrecy and a lack of public accountability of governments and officials. At present Eritrea is a dictatorship – with President Isaias answerable to no-one.