Ethiopia: UN fears ′massive′ coronavirus outbreak in Tigray | News | DW | 08.01.2021
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Ethiopia: UN fears 'massive' coronavirus outbreak in Tigray

A new UN report warns that conflict, displacement and dire humanitarian conditions in Tigray could be driving a surge in COVID-19 infections.

People walk near a tank in Ethiopia

The conflict in Tigray has led to instability in Ethiopia and neighboring countries

The United Nations has raised concerns over potential "massive community transmission" of the coronavirus in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region, amid displacements, conflict and a damaged health care system. 

In its first on-the-ground assessment from Tigray, published late Thursday, the UN described the dire humanitarian situation facing the region, where at least 2 million people are in need of aid.

The report said hospitals, schools and other public service facilities have been ravaged since the conflict between Ethiopian forces and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) began in early November. 

"The interruption of COVID-19 surveillance and control activities for over a month in the region, coupled with mass displacements and overcrowded conditions in displacement settings, is feared to have facilitated massive community transmission of the pandemic," the report said.

Only five out of 40 hospitals in Tigray were physically accessible, the report added, with four others reachable by mobile networks.

Ethiopia has one of the highest COVID-19 caseloads in Africa, with at least 127,000 people infected. The Ethiopian government has not said whether it is receiving information on coronavirus infections from Tigray. 

Watch video 01:49

Aid convoy reaches Ethiopia's war-torn Tigray region

Challenge to bring aid to Tigray

The report was based on two humanitarian missions conducted by the UN and government agencies in December. The fact-finding teams stressed that the situation was "dire," and that two out of four refugee camps in Tigray remained inaccessible.

The UN had pleaded with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed late last year to allow access to Tigray, amid international concerns over the humanitarian crisis. Abiy, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, had rejected any international "interference," but the two reached an agreement to let aid into the region in December. 

The TPLF, a political party formerly in power in Tigray, controlled most of the governmental positions in Ethiopia for almost three decades. That changed when Abiy came to power in 2018, sidelining the Tigray leaders and pushing through sweeping reforms.

Ethiopia's National Defense Force on Thursday said that four TPLF senior members had been and killed, and nine were arrested. The whereabouts of TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael and other members of the party's central commitee remains unknown.

Listen to audio 29:59

World in Progress: Ethiopia's Tigray conflict

The Ethiopian government in November announced victory over the TPLF, although the UN report confirmed that fighting was still ongoing.

More than five humanitarian workers have been killed in the conflict. It is not known how many civilians have died.

fb/nm (AP/Reuters)

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