Prison Commission Blocks Personal, Legal Visits Over Coronavirus Fear

ADDIS ABEBA – The Ethiopian government has halted personal and legal visits to prisoners in a bid to prevent the spread of COVID-19 into prisons.

It is “imperative we take such decision” and keep away people coming to prisons that are vulnerable to outbreaks, said Jemmal Abasso, Federal Prison Commission Commissioner, during a presser on Thursday.

The blanket ban will stay for at least fifteen days, prison officials said.

Accordingly, apart from families, religious figures and lawyers will stay away from the correctional facilities in the nation.

The commission has also set up two isolation centers in case the virus occurred.

“Unless the situation becomes critical, they will be treated in these two facilities,” Jemmal added.

The commissioner said prison administrators are undertaking various precautionary measures to prevent the virus.

The coronavirus COVID-19 often causes mild to moderate flu- and pneumonia-like illnesses in those young and relatively healthy, though some experts caution it is still more intense than the average cold or flu for many patients.

It can be deadly, particularly in those older than 60 or with pre-existing health conditions.

– Patients in good condition –

Ethiopia reported its first case identified as a Japanese national who traveled from the West African state of Burkina Faso – on March 13.

Since then, it has detected five more cases of coronavirus with some expecting the numbers likely to grow.

“Of the 6 confirmed cases currently on follow up four of them are now in good condition with no symptoms,” said Dr. Lia Tadesse, State Minister of Health.

“Two of the patients have mild to moderate symptoms and they are under frequent follow-up,” she added.

Dr. Lia appreciated the effort all sectors and communities have been undertaking to practice hand-washing strategies and avoid large gatherings.

– Foreigners attacked –

Foreigners dominating Ethiopia’s COVID-19 case has, however, created an unexpected response from some ill-informed people.

On Wednesday, the US embassy in Addis Ababa said foreigners in the country are coming under violent attacks.

The U.S. embassy “continues to receive reports regarding a rise in anti-foreigner sentiment” since the first case was detected last Friday, the security alert posted on its website indicates.

Some foreigners have been attacked with stones and denied transportation while being accused of being infected with COVID-19, it said.

The Embassy said harassment is targeting foreigners in general, with reports that people are shouting “China” and “Ferenji,” meaning “foreigner” coupled with “coronavirus.”

The issue has prompted a response from the authorities. “COVID-19 is not related to any country or nationality,” Minister of Health Dr. Lia said. “It is a test against all humanity”.

“We should fight it together and defeat it,” she said. “I call upon all my fellow Ethiopians to join hands with the world to fight this global challenge.”

The global coronavirus death toll has now exceeded 10,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. The US university – which has been compiling its data soon after the outbreak began late last year – says the number of confirmed cases is fast approaching 250,000.

In Africa, it was slower to feel the impact than Asia or Europe, but 33 African nations have now reported more than 600 cases, with 17 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. Its director general Tedros Adhanom on Wednesday advised African countries to avoid mass gatherings and “wake up” to the growing threat.

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