The Millennium Hall on Africa Avenue, a popular destination for concerts, exhibitions and public gatherings, has returned to a scene that has been familiar ever since the first case of the COVID-19 pandemic was reported in March last year. Once again, the ventilators are at a full utility, health staff swaddled in personal protective gear are busy trying to save lives, and patients struggling to breathe have occupied all of the ICU beds.

Patients are dying every day, mainly those needing tracheal intubation (TI), a stage a fraction survive before they “X,” a term medical staff use to refer to patients on ventilators who do not get to make it out of Millennium Hall alive. The global pandemic is on its third wave. Ethiopia has not been spared. Close to a fifth of tests are turning up positive, 789 people are in ICUs, and over 5,000 people have died to date, according to the latest status update by the Ethiopian Public Health Institute. The Delta variant of the virus, twice as contagious as the previous ones, has also been confirmed in the country to no one’s surprise as it has become the dominant strain in most places of the world.

Beyond the increasing potency of the virus, public apathy has been blamed for the latest uptick. Sanitiser and face masks are becoming rare, and public gatherings are back as people accept the pandemic as part of daily life. Global vaccine inequality has not helped the situation. The Ministry of Health hoped to see a fifth of the population vaccinated by the end of the year. COVAX, the global alliance against COVID-19, promised developing countries equitable access to vaccines. But lack of adequate commitment from rich countries has meant that Ethiopia received only 5.2 million doses through COVAX and administered shy of three million jabs.

With adequate access to vaccines not being a realistic target, experts urge a compromise between protecting lives and livelihoods, where restrictions on public gatherings and mask-wearing are enforced. This advice comes too late for the 415 lives lost to the pandemic this month.

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PUBLISHED ON Sep 18,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1116]

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