When the Ethiopian New Year rolled around in September 2020, it had been close to six months since the first case of COVID-19 had been recorded in the country. At that point, over 60,000 people had tested positive and just under 1,000 had lost their lives to the virus. The state of emergency declared in April that year was still active, social distancing and face masks were the norm, and large gatherings were prohibited. The year has been an eventful one, to say the least, and the pandemic was undoubtedly one of its defining features. It affected every aspect of society, from the economy and education to travel and social behaviour. Unfortunately, it continues to do so. As the country prepares to welcome another year, a look back might hold valuable lessons for the future.


Ministry Green Lights Elections

During an emergency parliamentary session, Lia Tadesse (MD), minister of Health, announced that the country could go ahead with the sixth national elections provided all the necessary precautions are put in place against the spread of the pandemic. In March 2020, soon after the first COVID-19 case was recorded in the country, the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) had announced its decision to postpone the elections until the "pandemic is over."


Schools Reopen

Students across the country found themselves going to school for the first time in over six months as educational institutions were reopened in mid-October, 2021. Students were required to wear face masks and practice social distancing, while hand-washing stations had been prepared at their schools. To meet the social distancing requirement, classes were held on alternate days, meaning most students were only going to school three days a week. The government had little choice but to allow for the resumption, despite there being few signs of a slowdown in cases and deaths.


Positive Cases Surpass 100,000

Less than nine months into the pandemic, the number of cases recorded surpassed 100,000 while deaths hit 1,500. As if a pandemic were not enough, November 2020 also saw the breakout of civil war in Tigray Regional State.


Central Bank Approves Second Round of Soft Loans for Struggling Hospitality Industry

The central bank approves 2.5 billion Br in soft loans with a lending rate of 5.5pc for the hospitality industry, which had been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The approval was the second in six months as over three billion Birr at a lending rate of five percent was availed in June 2020. Borrowers were given six months to apply for this scheme and benefit from the package. They were required to use the loans to cover payroll and operational expenses.


Ministry Lifts Treatment Price Cap

The Ministry of Health issues a circular relaxing specifications for private hospitals running COVID-19 centres and lifting the price cap on items related to COVID-19 treatment. At this point, only seven private hospitals, including Yerer, Bethzatha and Hallelujah General, were permitted to provide COVID-19 treatment. The move was hoped to provide more options to those looking for treatment, but extremely high prices at private health centres meant only a fraction of the population could benefit. Some patients were reportedly discharged from private health centres with bills as high as 1.5 million Br. By the end of January 2021, the number of cases had hit 137,000 while deaths had surpassed 2,000.


Health Ministry Announces Vaccination Strategy

In early February 2021, Lia Tadesse (MD), minister of Health, announced that Ethiopia would be receiving nine million doses of COVID-19 vaccines over the next two months. The Minister also revealed the government's target of vaccinating 20pc of the population before the end of the year. The jabs were supposed to be provided through COVAX, an initiative under the World Health Organisation, Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. However, only a portion was to arrive. The vaccination target was also ambitious, as less than three percent of the population has received a jab as of early September 2021.


First Doses Arrive

Over 2.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were handed over to the Ministry of Health as part of the first batch of deliveries from the COVAX facility. The donation came as several European countries suspended the use of the AstraZeneca jab amid health concerns. Later in March 2021, the Chinese government donated 300,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine. By the time the vaccines made it to Ethiopia, the country had recorded around 200,000 cases and over 2,600 deaths. Frontline healthcare workers were given priority for vaccination against COVID-19 as the campaign kicked off on March 13, 2021. Those above the age of 65, or between 55 and 64 but diagnosed with underlying health conditions such as hypertension or diabetes, followed soon afterward.


Oxygen Troubles

A production disruption at one of the city's primary suppliers of medical oxygen, Chora Gas Factory, fuels a severe shortage of oxygen in the midst of a spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths. The plant, which used to produce more than 1,000 cylinders a day, was forced to cease operations due to issues with machinery. The development could not have come at a worse time as close to 800 people were in need of life-saving support and dozens were succumbing to the virus every day.


The Worst of Times

April 2021 saw the very worst of the pandemic, as cases and deaths continued to climb unceasingly. An average of 2,000 positive cases were being reported daily through the first half of the month and the highest-ever number of deaths in a day was recorded on April 20, 2021, as 47 people lost their lives to the virus. By the end of the month, the death toll had hit 3,700 and the number of cases recorded had surpassed a quarter of a million.


Shipping Enterprise Quadruples Tariffs, Blames Container Shortages

The Ethiopian Shipping & Logistics Services Enterprise (ESLSE) introduces new cargo tariffs comprising four times higher than its rate last year, blaming a shortage of containers due to imbalances created during COVID-19 lockdowns. The Enterprise set prices as high as 4,838 dollars for 20ft containers and 9,223 dollars for 40ft containers. Importers face delays in the deliveries of their goods, drastic increases in transportation costs, and penalties from banks as letters of credit (LCs) expire.


Second Round of COVID-19 Jabs Schedule Approaches, Doses Unavailable

Ethiopia faces a critical shortage of second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine as authorities find themselves in a difficult position to complete the regimen of millions of people who have already received the first dose. This came as the number of people infected by the virus surpassed a quarter of a million, with more than 4,200 casualties to the pandemic.


US Donates J&J Jabs

The United States government donates over 453,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines to the Ministry of Health. The Ministry's vaccination campaign had largely been held up as the second batch of doses through the COVAX facility failed to materialise. Just over 2.1 million people had received the jab, mostly the AstraZeneca vaccine, at the time of the donation.


Ethiopia Secures $408m from IMF

Ethiopia secures a sum of 408 million dollars under the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) programme of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The allocation is part of IMF's efforts to curb the impacts of COVID-19 on the global economy and help countries, especially low-income economies under financial stress, boost their liquidity. According to the IMF, Ethiopia's economy experienced the slowest growth in a decade and a half, reaching two percent last year in the aftermath of the pandemic.


New Wave

Last month saw an alarming increase in infection rates as officials from the Ministry of Health warn that the delta variant of the Coronavirus is spreading quickly. Over 2,000 cases were recorded on August 25, 2021, alone. At the dawn of the Ethiopian New Year, the number of cases stands at close to 320,000, while deaths are fast approaching 5,000. Less than 2.6 million people have received the vaccination thus far, making it highly unlikely that the government will achieve its goal of vaccinating 20pc of the population before the end of 2021.