Ethiopia has gazette a new law that could see people jailed for up to two years if they deliberately violate restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.
The new decree from the attorney general’s office comes amid heightened concern that citizens are becoming lax after a state of emergency was lifted.
Alongside the new law are restrictions that ban shaking of hands, not wearing a face mask in a public place, and seating more than three people at a table.
The government has also included a rather dubious prohibition of “not keeping two adult steps” in public places. The AG’s office clarified that it meant around six feet apart.
On Thursday, the Health Minister Lia Tadesse tweeted, “Now it is as if COVID is no longer there, the public is not taking care.”
“This will cause a possible increase in the spread of the disease and might be a threat to the nation.”
Africa’s second most populous nation and the region’s economic powerhouse declared a state of emergency in April to curb the spread of the pandemic.
Even as the Health Ministry recorded increased cases towards the end of August, the government moved to lift the state of emergency in September.
Ethiopia has been Eastern Africa’s worst hit nation by the coronavirus pandemic, with the Health Ministry recording 91,118 cases and 1,384 deaths so far.
Limited resources have hampered the nation’s efforts in fighting the virus, while the economy has remained relatively stable.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has announced that the country’s economy grew 6.1% in 2019/20 financial year.
Last week, at least 79 deaths of COVID-19 were recorded, though the ministry of health confirmed that less than 2% of deaths are formally recorded.
Ethiopia also postponed its regional and parliamentary elections scheduled for August due to the outbreak. They are expected to be held next year.
Despite being spared the worst of the pandemic, most African leaders are urging vigilance aware that any surge in new cases could overwhelm already fragile public health systems.