Apr 25 , 2020

If approved by the Council of Ministers, a new directive will allow a maximum of just 50 people to attend funeral ceremonies.

Drafted by the Ministry of Health, the directive limited the number of people that can attend a funeral ceremony as part of the current ongoing fight to ward off the potential spread of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Tabled to the Council of Ministers last week, the directive followed the regulation that was issued by the Council two weeks ago to execute the state of emergency that was declared to contain the spread of the virus. The emergency decree gives the Ministry of Health a mandate to prepare health-related legislation including this latest directive.

In the making for the past month, the directive allows only close family members and friends of the deceased to attend the funeral ceremony. Before reaching the Council of Ministers, the directive was sent to the Office of the Attorney General for legal review two weeks ago.

Traditionally, funeral ceremonies in Ethiopia are known to be attended by a crowd of people, according to Seharela Abdullahi, state minister for Heath.

"This could potentially be a cause for the spread of the virus," she told Fortune, explaining the reason for the directive.

The directive is expected to be approved in a week's time. It proposes the formation of a 10-member temporary task force that will be responsible for overseeing the execution of the new procedure. Representatives from the ministries of Labour & Social Affairs, Transport, and Health will be members of the task force.

Apart from family members of the deceased, religious fathers, security forces, and those who will handle the funeral ceremony are allowed to attend funerals, according to the draft directive. It also mandates that those who are deployed to handle the burial process must wear full protective gear.

First reported on March 13, 2020, the number of total confirmed cases reached 122 at the end of last week. Out of the total number of people who have acquired the virus, 29 of them have fully recovered and been discharged from treatment centres. So far, the country has also reported three deaths due to the pandemic.

The Ministry is currently taking samples from all of the individuals who have recently passed away to identify the cause of death, according to Seharela.

Yonas Birmeta (PhD), an assistant professor at Addis Abeba University's College of Law & Governance Studies, says the directive arrived at the right time. He believes that what Ethiopia can do right now is work attentively on preventive measures.

Usually, funerals are one of the key social practices in Ethiopia, according to Yonas.

"It might be hard for the community to accept and apply the new guidelines," he said, "but obeying the directive is a must for the sake of community safety."

Offenders of the restrictions and those who fail to adhere to the proclamation will be punished with up to three years in jail or a fine of up to 200,000 Br.

PUBLISHED ON Apr 25,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1043]

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