Mar 21 , 2020

A driver for the Ride taxi service, Teramed Bahiru, carries out his work wearing a protective face mask, gloves and sanitizer.

The two leading taxi-hailing companies Ride and ZayRide are manning the front lines of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic by allocating funds to equip their drivers with face masks and gloves to curb its spread.

Ride has set aside two million Birr in initial funds, while ZayRide has already spent a little over one million Birr to procure face masks, gloves and hand sanitizer. Both companies have sent out educational mass texts about the Coronavirus to their drivers and users.

Ride, which began operation in March 2017 with a capital of 40,000 Br, is setting a precedent by allocating funds that will be used to supplement the income drivers will lose if they are quarantined because of the virus, which was first reported in Ethiopia on March 13, 2020. The number of people who acquired the virus in Ethiopia reached nine as of the end of last week.

Aside from the gloves that will be distributed to its 15,000 drivers, Ride is also donating masks and gloves to the Addis Abeba City Administration to be distributed to clinics across the city with shortages, according to Samrawit Fikru, co-founder and CEO of Ride, which trained its 350 administration staff on safety measures to avoid the spread of the virus.

The company has procured 30,000 masks and is in the process of distributing them. Additionally, the City Administration will receive the donations on March 30, 2020. The funds are also intended to provide budgetary support to Ride drivers who are not able to work because of the virus.

"Seven drivers are quarantined so far," said Samrawit, "and Ride is making sure they're getting the financial support they need."

Ride will be using the funds to identify new cases and isolate those who test positive, as well as help infected passengers or drivers. All of the company's drivers will be involved in some way with the operation. The funds will also go to provide free rides to people who may have or are exhibiting symptoms of the virus to the Yeka-Kotebe Hospital where they will be quarantined.

ZayRide is also disseminating 50,000 face masks for all its drivers. It will also distribute the masks and gloves to security personnel, traffic police and street kids.

"The government can't tackle this alone," said Habtamu Tadesse, CEO of ZayRide, which works with 7,000 drivers.

ZayRide is working to start a call centre in partnership with People to People (P2P), the City's Health Bureau and ARTS TV. They will be contracting 15 doctors to help run the call centre for a period of three months. The costs for this will be covered by the NGO.

It has created a one-minute Amharic infomercial and is sharing it on its social media platforms. This infomercial will be translated into different languages, according to Habtamu, who limited the number of passengers who can be picked up at one time to two.

However, Ride has not yet set any limitations on the number of passengers.

"The drivers are told to take extreme caution while driving passengers around," said Samrawit. "I think that is what is more important at this point."

The Addis Abeba City Administration Transportation Bureau has also started distributing masks and chemicals to its Anbessa and Sheger bus operators. The Mayor’s office has donated 10,000 masks and 2,000lt of chemical disinfectant to the Bureau.

The number of passengers has also been limited to the number of seats for all public transport service providers, according to Aregawi Maru, communications director at the City's Transport Bureau.

"Although fines for having extra passengers have always been there," said Aregawi, "it will be applied more stringently given the severity of the situation."

The city has currently 260 Sheger buses, 650 Anbessa buses and 50 double-deckers in operation. Additionally, about 120 Anbessa buses have been added to alleviate the strain anticipated by limiting passengers on board. In addition, taxis and minibuses have also been informed about this through a joint meeting of the taxi associations and the Transport Bureau. A total of 70 school buses have also been added for public service.

The golden rule for combating the virus is washing hands thoroughly with soap, according to Tadele Tibebu (MD), a public health expert at FHI 360.

"If this isn't possible, then using hand sanitizer as a replacement will work," he said. "However, we should use hand sanitizer attentively for as long as we would wash with soap. Lightly brushing our hands for a few seconds with sanitizer will not be effective."

PUBLISHED ON Mar 21,2020 [ VOL 20 , NO 1038]

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